Back in August, a National Review article asked, “Will negative ads prove counter-productive in Florida this year?” Their answer: “Voters are EXHAUSTED with the negative ads. This might be something building down there. Anyone without a real message other than attacking their opponent may not get any traction with voters.”
Two months later, as we turn onto the homestretch and debates take to the airwaves, negativity is still the main theme of candidates in both the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, and the battle cry to berate the other guy seems to have gained, rather than lost, momentum.
In last week’s U.S. Senate debate, the first televised debate of the season, Charlie Crist (I), Marco Rubio (R), and Kendrick Meek (D) relentlessly took shots at each other, often pairing up against one and then switching to pair up against the other. Rep. Meek and Gov. Crist unofficially teamed up in an attempt to dismantle Marco Rubio from his front-runner position, both attacking Rubio as a right-wing extremist. Then with dizzying speed Crist sided with Rubio against Meek for his liberal bias, while Meek and Rubio fired away at Crist for flip-flopping on issues and being a political opportunist. Ironically, the major flip-flopping was really in the antics of all three candidates, focusing more energy on blasting their opponents than on offering up their own solutions for the troubled state, which currently has an 11% unemployment rate and cries out for answers.
Meanwhile the governor’s race has been no different. In the first of their own televised debates on October 8, Rick Scott and Alex Sink took the gloves off and came out swinging, each accusing the other of ethical transgressions in their past careers. With the tenacity of a bulldog, Sink continues to pound on Scott’s HCA, Inc., $1.7 billion Medicare fraud scandal, as Scott attacks Sink’s CFO record and accuses her of mishandling funds in a major bond-sale transaction to Bank of America.
So with all of this redundant negative campaigning still alive and well, has the prediction that it will turn voters off come true? Are voters fed-up with the negativity, or are they responding to it? The answer is yes, and yes.
In a recent story in the American Spectator, Larry Thornberry writes, “Negative campaign ads, where candidates paint their opponents as all-purpose knaves and scoundrels in the most lurid terms, are all over the airwaves. Floridians weary of them.”
But in spite of all the complaining, negativity seems to pay off. The race for governor has tightened into a statistical dead heat according to most polls, with only a 3-point margin separating the two candidates, 50%-47%, respectively.
Likewise in the Senate race, the mud-slinging has given Marco Rubio a double-digit lead, according to the latest Reuters poll.
The only one who seems to be stalled in this mix is Governor Crist, who still can’t seem to shake the backlash over his defection from the Republican Party, and who back in May said he was “done with negative campaigning,” a promise that has since evaporated in the atmosphere of meaner-is-better politics.
In an unofficial, on-the-street poll of 100 people by PJM at two Lee County shopping malls, negative campaigns got a resounding negative reaction, with 90 out of 100 people stating that they don’t like the negative ads. Interestingly, 70% believe that they are personally not influenced by the barrage of mud-slinging tactics, yet 63 out of 100 people were able to articulate at least one strong negative feeling about one candidate or another as a way of supporting their own choice at the polls, while 26% proudly admitted a dislike for politicians and politics in general and stated they will not pay attention to the campaigns or to the election this season. “They’re all crooks, when you get down to it,” one shopper summarized, “so what’s the point?”
It would seem from this little study that candidates aren’t the only ones affected by a focus on the negative, and that the odd truth is that while both candidates and voters claim a disdain for negativity, nastiness continues to be a strong theme, leaving one to conclude that there must be a pay-off with this tactic, however distasteful it may seem to voters.
So as we push on through to Election Day, will we see more negativity from candidates? Of that, you can be positive.