The 2006 elections were characterized by negative campaigning, with candidates spending a record $160 million to make their opponents look bad. The 2008 elections promise to be no different. But according to Ray Seidelman, politics faculty member and holder of the Sara Yates Exley Chair in Teaching Excellence, the sheer volume of these attacks means that only candidates in close races or those who are not well entrenched in their parties will be hurt by them.
"Everybody who campaigns these days is involved in negative campaigning. Ads have become personal attacks that hurt candidates who are not well known to the voters," Seidelman says.
Last fall, Seidelman was quoted on the subject in Associated Press articles published in newspapers across the country.
Negative campaigns tend to stick in voters' minds and make them feel cynical about politics, says Seidelman, who teaches a class titled "Elections, Campaigns, and Political Parties in the United States: Democracy and Disenchantment." Voters are then less inclined to believe the positive things they hear about a candidate and more inclined to believe the negatives.
Why the increase in negative campaigns of late? Seidelman blames the media. News sources fail to fully inform voters about candidates' stands on all the issues, he says. Plus, their reliance on unverified sources means that "It is easy for opponents to launch a negative campaign that can destroy a candidate's career. Journalists readily accept information from anonymous sources without investigating and verifying the information. Journalism has lost its accountability."
So what countermeasures can voters take?
"Be more suspicious of what is being trotted out, ask 'who is benefiting from the release of this information?' and seek independent information," he says.