Negative ads not popular, but they attract attention


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The people running political campaigns are well aware that voters don't like negative attacks. But polls show that negative campaigning and ads get a reaction. This year, the question is whether that reaction is what the candidates themselves want.

"Liar," "erratic" and "palling around with terrorists" are perhaps some fighting words you would hear on a school yard playground. But those words are coming from the presidential candidates who are preparing for another debate tomorrow.

Negative ads not popular, but they attract attention

We talked with several experts who tell us the goal of negative campaigning is to divert attention away from the issues. That's why the voters we spoke with today said they try to ignore the negative.

"It turns me off to them, particularly, not necessarily the candidate they're attacking," said voter Hillary Snow-Horst

Voter Summer Schaefer said, "It seems a little underhanded."

"It's not the character you should be looking at. It's the issues," said voter Cory Paiz.

But on the campaign trail today, John McCain's emphasis wasn't on issues. "Who is the real Barack Obama?" he questioned.

Barack Obama has his own line of attack, calling McCain in one TV ad "erratic in crisis" and "out of touch on the economy."

Negative ads not popular, but they attract attention

Today, it was McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, who predicted what is to come. "From now until Election Day, it may get kinda rough," she said.

But does "rough" work? National Pollster John Zogby says, "I don't see any evidence of any candidate scoring any points by running negative ads or negative attacks in the free media against the other side."

But Zogby admits attacks attract attention, and other experts say some negativity can have an impact. Remember John Kerry and swift boat?

"People have an easier time remembering something negative about a particular candidate rather than an issue," political pollster Dan Jones explained.

At issue now, the latest national polls show Obama pulling ahead, leaving the McCain camp talking tough.

"They know that negative campaign has a chance at being successful for them, and if their back's against the wall, then they're willing to take that risk," political campaign consultant Josh Ewing said.

That risk is intended to capture two voting blocks crucial to a candidate's victory: The independents and the undecideds.

There is an unintended consequence of going negative in any campaign, and that is people get fed up with the rhetoric and just don't vote. If this election is as close as everyone says it's going to be, neither candidate can afford to turn off voters.

E-mail: lprichard@ksl.com
E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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Lori Prichard and Richard Piatt

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