Negative Ads Only Fuel Voter Anger

Going negative only makes the electorate angrier.

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I’ve been traveling around the country for the past few months talking to independent voters and it is striking how angry they are and how disappointed in the entire political system.

Sure the economy is bad and people are scared about losing their jobs and their homes. But the level of cynicism and mistrust in government transcends the current economic crisis.

The Tea Party and its followers have been getting the lion’s share of media attention but there are many more voters, especially independents, who share much of the frustration with government and political officials that the Tea Party has expressed.

[Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the Tea Party.]

Political consultants, who are the guys who make political ads and convince politicians to spend millions of dollars buying television air time to run them, insist that negative ads work.

But what I’ve been hearing from voters is that they are sick and tired of the name calling, finger pointing ads which make them not want to vote at all. Voters have been telling me they think these ads prove that politicians just care about getting re-elected and would say anything to accomplish that.

Voters say what they want to hear are ideas for moving the country forward and what the candidates would do if they get elected.

But not too many ads talk about stuff like that.

Massachusetts, where politics is a contact sport, features some of the most entertaining and volatile ads.

Republican Bill Hudak actually went to court over a campaign ad and asked a Superior Court judge to order his opponent Democratic Rep. John Tierney to stop using a television spot that calls Hudak "toxic" and a "poisonous kook."

Rep. Barney Frank, one of the funniest members of Congress and the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is the subject of some pretty funny attack ads by his Republican opponent Sean Bielat.

[Read Susan Milligan: Why Is Barney Frank Pretending to Be Nice?]

One features a dancing, disco Barney Frank spouting quotes about the financial crisis.

Another has past quotes Frank declaring the financial system is fundamentally sound, there will be no bail out, no financial collapse and no crisis, all while the 1945 song “Kiss Me Once,” originally recorded by Bing Crosby, plays in the background. I’m not sure what that song has to do with anything but I have to admit the commercial makes me laugh.

These two ads are actually kind of funny but the garden variety negative ads which feature sleazy attacks, falsehoods, and fear mongering serve only to increase cynicism and discourage voters, especially independents, from voting.

Maybe politicians and their political consultants will learn that someday.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.
  • See which industries donate the most to Congress.
  • See a slide show of 11 hot races in November.