Negative Campaigns: A Double Edged Sword?


Negative ads along with negative campaigns work, but not necessarily to the advantage of the initiator. Sometimes, they produce exactly the opposite results.
And plenty of candidates, who thought that their success hinges on waging a nasty campaign, lost last week’s General Election.

Alan Fine, a Republican candideate in Fifth Congressional District, was one of them.

“Fine was too harsh in his negative attacks and that offended voters,” said former Democratic Congressman Tim Penny, who since switched parties to become an activist in the Independence party.

The trick to using negative ads skillfully, Penny adds, is to not push the envelope too far.

During the campaign, Fine routinely attacked his Democratic opponent Keith Ellison for his past association with the Nation of Islam—a claim that Ellison denies. But Ellison admitted – and apologized – for writing articles that offended Jews and others.
He said he survived the bashing in part because he stayed positive during the campaign.

“We won a key election —but we did much more than that,” a message in his website reads. “We showed that a candidate can run a 100 [percent] positive campaign and prevail, even against tough opposition.”

In his victory party last week, Ellison said positive campaigning was a corner stone in his strategy to win.

Former Congressman Penny, who’s now a senior fellow at Humphrey Institute, said that negative ads are designed to appeal to the emotions of the voter, in order to stimulate them.

So Republican Fine captured that “emotional response—but not the one he hoped for,” Penny said. By contrast, the Independence party candidate Tammy Lee “made a positive impression with voters who were troubled by candidate Ellison, but turned-off by candidate Fine.” he said.

Lee garnered nearly 22 percent of the vote—almost as much as Fine received, which’s significant and unprecedented in the Fifth District.