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The PJ Tatler

by
Vik Rubenfeld

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November 15, 2012 - 9:22 am

For many years the GOP has considered itself to be above negative ads. For the most part, it doesn’t run them, and it doesn’t respond to them.  But now it is impossible to avoid seeing the cost of this policy.

The public says it doesn’t like negative ads. But they work. From researcher Drew Weston:

The voters we surveyed claimed to despise both [negative] ads, describing them in focus groups as “pandering.” They insisted the ads would backfire with them. But using a well-established method for assessing which words the commercials activated unconsciously, we discovered that although voters consciously disliked both commercials, the ads were nevertheless highly effective. Both “stuck,” triggering negative associations with Obama and McCain in the minds of most viewers, including those who thought they were unaffected. When viewing the face of Obama, the words most strongly activated by the “3 a.m.” ad were “weak,” “lightweight,” “terrorist” and “Muslim.” The word that stuck unconsciously after the “McSame” ad was “Bush.”

Viewers may have rejected the ads consciously, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t unconsciously affected.

From DiscoveryNews:

…the power of negativity may lie in its ability to compel people to seek out more information about candidates, in turn influencing the undecided.

“Advertising matters at the margins,” said political scientist Erika Franklin Fowler, director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising at Wesleyan University in Conn. “We never see ads that take a candidate from 20 percent to 70 percent of the vote. But when you have a country that is divided 50/50, every percentage point counts. That’s where advertising makes a difference.”

Negativity has been around as long as elections have, Fowler said, but the practice has recently become more prevalent than ever.

Obama blasted Romney relentlessly with negative ads in swing states. In August, Forbes stated that “about 85% of the president’s ads have been negative.” Yet Romney considered it beneath him to respond. From Dick Morris on October 3:

Bill Clinton and I used to share a proverb: Never sleep under the same roof with an unanswered negative. Always, always, always, always answer.

For some reason, Romney has refused to answer the negatives Obama has heaped upon his head month after month. He calls Romney a tax cheat who hates the poor, can’t wait to destroy Medicare, and only cares about the rich.

This pounding has taken a severe toll on Romney’s image. He is now underwater (i.e., with more unfavorables than favorables).

There are truly large numbers of voters who want, heart and soul, to vote against Barack Obama. They know the economy is falling apart. They realize that the debt has made things worse. They agree that higher taxes and more regulation is the wrong way to go. They see now the naiveté and futility of Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world.

But the steady drumbeat of Obama’s unanswered negative ads has so eroded Romney’s image that these voters remain undecided. Obama’s paid negative ads have not cut a broad swath but they have tipped enough anti-Obama voters into the undecided column that they are now making the difference.

Romney only lost by 400,000 votes in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado. The likelihood that he could have won had he merely responded to the negative ads in these swing states appears to be high.

Two different actions are required of conservatives who are serious about winning elections. We must respond to negative ads the day they come out. “Never sleep under the same roof with an unanswered negative.” And we must launch negative ads of our own.  With our candidates being pounded to pieces by negatives, we must make our opponents pay the political price.

When the opposing candidate is fighting with fire, we must respond with fire — or lose. Again.

Vik Rubenfeld is a 20-year veteran of the polling and market research industry and founder of Rubenfeld Research Associates.
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