Negative Campaigning — If it Works and What it Has Accomplished
October 6, 2008
Today Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin presented her second speech in as many days on the topic of opponent Barack Obama’s political involvement with past leader of radical group Weather Underground — a subject repeatedly punched by the McCain campaign. Palin’s words were responded with boos and shouting alike from the McCain supporting crowd, a harsh way of showing they wanted more.
But has this been the response from the general public, especially neutral undecideds?
The popular trend has been no, but past and present pollster stats have had a history of contradicting this claim. But in contrast, Barack Obama’s recent climb in the polls have been widely linked with the fact that his campaign has been running a lower percentage of attack ads.
But in truth it really comes down to the campaign making their attacks carefully and with strategy. Although incredibly dated, my case in point is knockout campaign ad “daisy” by then-presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson. The ad (click here) was truly a textbook attack that although was in fact a PR gamble, paid off handsomely for the Johnson campaign, and is even credited at times in part for his presidency win.
Why? Though a gamble alone because of its topic, the ad was in fact very well played. The Johnson campaign found a large stumble by opponent Barry Goldwater where he stated that nuclear bombing Vietnam was a possibility.
For those as young as me, to put this into prospect: the political importance of capitalizing on the uncertainty and fear of a nuclear war in 1964 was by all means not the equivalent but rather of the same concept as a candidate in this race falling on a political pot of gold. In other words, finding something (most useful would be a quote) coming out of the opposing campaign that involved the prospect of funding the people who are suspected to have started the financial crisis.
What is my point? There are essentially three steps a campaign must take to orchestrate a successful ad — a juicy and controversial topic (in Daisy’s case a nuclear war), a somewhat truthful piece of information from the opponent (the more untruthful it is the more skilled the director must be), and finally a non-generic: “and this is why you should vote John ’64” quote.
And “daisy” not only hit straight on all of those topics, but also found time to put fourth an intense start (the young girl counting roses that turns in to a T-Minus countdown for an nuclear bomb) that has made people think and argue for decades.
And what does this have to do with the 2008 presidential race? In a strategic sense, almost everything.
In my opinion, Obama’s lead has come from two things — his policies and the topic of this post — McCain campaigning.
But not as you might suspect — I am not discrediting McCain for his negativing campaigning itself, but rather the fact that it has not successfully followed all the points to make a successful PR ploy. This is simply because he has thrown out way too many talking points as ads, and hasn’t followed what has worked in the past and will continue to — a central arguement.