Dr. Kevin Arceneaux, an assistant professor of political science at Temple, recently responded to a request from “The Temple News” to state his thoughts on negative political campaigns and the potential impact today’s election can have on the nation. Arceneaux is also a faculty affiliate in the Institute for Policy Analysis, and his expertise is in the area of political psychology and public opinion. On negative campaigns: There is a debate within the scholarly literature on [the effectiveness of negative campaign ads]. Some researchers argue that negative advertising lowers turnout, while some argue that it has no effect and, under certain conditions, may even boost turnout. Some scholars find that negative ads have a strong persuasive impact, while others find that they are more informative than persuasive.
“While there are merits to both sides of these debates, my reading of the literature and own research on the subject leads me to the following conclusion: Negative campaign ads are good vehicles for persuasion. If they are not countered by the opposing campaign, they will, more likely than not, eat into support for the opposing side. So the other side has to ‘punch back’ in order to limit their losses.
“In the competitive races around the country, both sides are using negative ads and – to some extent – they are canceling each other out. The question is whether or not some negative ads are more successful than their counter-response. I think this is undoubtedly true, and there may be some very close races, like the senate races in Virginia and Tennessee, that will be decided by the ad war.
In terms of turnout, the available evidence shows that negative ads have little-to-no effect on whether people vote. I don’t see any reason why these findings won’t extend to this election. No one likes negative ads, but they can do a good job getting people to care about the outcome of the election, which may actually motivate some people to vote even though they are disgusted by all the mudslinging.”
On potential post-election impact:
“Based on my reading of the forecasting models and pre-election polls, I think that, baring some unforeseen reversal of fortunes, the Democratic Party is on the path to gain control of the U.S. House and the Senate is still too close to call. The Democrats are also posed to do well in gubernatorial and statehouse elections.
“What effect will this outcome, should it come to pass, have on the nation? I’m not so sure. It really depends on whether the congressional Democrats and Whitehouse decide to put aside their differences and work together or not. Because the presidential election is only two years away and George W. Bush is a lame-duck president, I’m pessimistic that the level of rancor will subside.”
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.