By Rachel Brody |
Your question presumes "negative campaigns" are a problem. Like everything else they can go too far, but negative campaigning began with the very first elections. In ancient Rome, Cicero railed against his opponents for incest with a sister, debauchery with actors, thuggery with gladiators, not to mention child molestation with boys so young they were "almost in their parents' laps." In our first presidential election, Thomas Jefferson's opponents argued that if he were elected, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced…" In our more genteel times, such attacks would be far out of bounds.
Negative campaigning happens because it works. It works in part because negative information is useful. We naturally look for the negative. When an employer rummages through a pile of resumes, she is looking for the easy disqualification, the reason to discard a few candidates. Unlike their more pleasant, positive counterparts, negative ads tend to include at least one verifiable fact. While positive ads often feature a candidate, jacket slung over a shoulder, mouthing platitudes in the company of an adoring family, negative ads describe votes cast, positions taken, failed efforts, and values forsaken.
Our brains are wired to weigh this kind of information heavily. Decades of research in psychology demonstrates that negative information is processed more quickly and more deeply than positive information, providing a biological basis for negative campaigns. They conform to human nature.
So-called negative campaigning isn't all bad—and sometimes it's both fair and necessary. The natural state of an election involving an incumbent president is to be a referendum on that incumbent—an up or down vote on the individual occupying the Oval Office. That's not only unfair to the president, its unhealthy for the country. Elections actually confront us with choices, choices between two different individuals with different histories, different philosophies, different values, and different platforms. Voters should think of the campaign as a choice.
Bringing former Gov. Mitt Romney's faults to the fore helps the American people see this election as the choice it is. That's both good for the president and good for the country. As long as the blows aren't below the belt and focus on what former Governor Romney has done, what he believes, and what he will do, there is nothing at all untoward about the tack taken by the president's campaign. In fact, it's a service to the nation.
About Mark Mellman CEO of The Mellman Group
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Reince Priebus Chairman of the Republican National Committee
Peter Fenn Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research