Are negative ads a reflection of an uncivil culture or do they encourage incivility? Are our politicians and their actions tributes to our own actions and ideals or do their choices spawn a chain reaction of incivility? How should we, as voters and engaged citizens, respond? These are some of the questions Brooks and Greer attempt to answer in their article “Beyond Negativity” The Effects of Incivility on the Electorate.”
Their study surveyed a national sample of adults who recorded their responses to a series campaign ads, which the authors of this study produced These ads were based off of real campaign ads. These replications were designed to test three dimensions of campaign advertisements.
The first dimension of the study addressed the positivity and negativity. Basically, if an ad is positive, it focuses on something everyone loves. These ads focus on things like education, butterflies, rainbows, or puppies
Kisses and puppies? I mean, what more are you looking for, America?
The team chose to use negative ads that focused on the unfavorable aspects of a candidate’s opponent.
Really, Romney? Really?
The second dimension of the study centered on trait vs issue focus ads. “Trait” ads attack the personal characteristics of a candidates’ opponent.
While “issue” focused ads attack flawed policies of a candidate’s opponent.
The third dimension of the study focuses on determining whether an ad is negative and uncivil or simply negative. An ad is both negative and uncivil when it crosses the line into the realm of excessive criticism without adding any new substantive information.
The authors recognize that this study is not definitive, since it relies solely on opinion. However, they do feel like they can conclude (like authors Nkonge, Stone, Cort, and Blodgett of “The Moderating Influence of Political Involvement on Voters’ Attitudes Toward Attack Ads,” as well as teh authors of my cracked.com article) that “those least-liked, least-valued kinds of messages may modestly stimulate two things that we tend to care a great deal about as a society: political interest and improving likelihood to vote.”