Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Why negative political attack advertising fails - and why the BC Liberals are taking dangerous chances using it

Negative Advertising Fails  
Concerned Citizens for BC's extremely negative attack ad style
That's what research and British Columbia's experience shows

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/The Tyee column 

Tuesday April 9, 2013
By Bill Tieleman
"The research clearly shows that negative ads are not more persuasive than positive ads."
- Bill Benoit, Ohio University communication studies professor
New Democrat leader Adrian Dix is taking the biggest political risk of his life -- and his party will win or lose this election because of it.
No, it's not by promising well in advance that an NDP government would increase the corporate tax rates or put a minimum tax on banks and financial institutions nor is it an ill-advised policy in the party's forthcoming platform.
Dix rolled the dice a year ago when he publicly pledged the NDP will not run negative or personal attack ads, period.
The NDP has not and will not respond in kind to the vicious $1 million assault on Dix's own character launched by Concerned Citizens for BC, a BC Liberal-linked group led by Jim Shepard, an ex-Christy Clark advisor and former corporate CEO.
But is Dix being risky or is it really Clark's team taking dangerous chances by gambling everything on the success of negative advertising?
After all, the NDP is 20 points ahead of the BC Liberals and Dix's approval rating is miles ahead of Clark's, according to the last Angus Reid poll.
The focus on negative ads may be because while political operatives strongly believe negative advertising works, those who actually empirically study advertising for a living say the research tells a different story.
Confused consultants
"Everyone remembers the races where a negative attack or series of attacks appears to have been decisive. That's the kind of knowledge candidates and consultants have -- it's anecdotal evidence. The scholarly evidence doesn't back them up," says Stephen Craig, professor of political science at the University of Florida.
"Here's the deal -- why are there so many negative ads? Because candidates and consultants believe they work," Craig says.
"If you've got a powerful negative message that resonates with voters, then yeah, it's going to work. But if it's about something voters don't care about, if it's a message that's poorly presented, then they're not going to be moved by it."
"Can it work? Yes. Does it work? Sometimes," Craig sums up.
Another expert who has done the research says policy trumps so-called "character" issues time after time.
"It would seem that the candidate who talks more about policy may be more likely to win," says Bill Benoit, an Ohio University communication studies professor who studies negative political advertising.
"We found public opinion data from 1980 through 2000 where they asked voters what's the most important determinant of your vote for president and more people said policy or issues than character or image."
"So in fact, the candidates who talk more about policy are more likely to win than if you stress character," Benoit concludes.
Familiar weapon, new era
I know firsthand that negative advertising can work very well -- because I was Premier Glen Clark's communications director when our NDP campaign used it against then-opposition leader Gordon Campbell in 1996. And my colleague then was Clark's chief of staff, Adrian Dix.
The NDP launched a pre-emptive negative TV advertising strike against Campbell that started before Clark was even chosen leader in Feb. 1996.
Those ads, brilliantly created by NOW Communications, featured grainy black and white photos of a scary Campbell with an ominous deep male announcer's voice talking about BC Liberal plans to slash public services, then asking: "Gordon Campbell: Whose side is he on anyway?"
In the election campaign that followed, the NDP slogan was "On Your Side" and it was illustrated by the government freezing tuition fees, BC Ferries' fares, ICBC auto insurance rates and increasing the minimum wage.
All of that was counter posed to Campbell's agenda to cut 15 per cent from the BC budget, sell BC Rail, reduce the number of rural seats in the BC Legislature and generally shake up the province.
The BC Liberals ill-advised slogan -- "The Courage To Change" -- even reinforced the NDP message that bad things would happen if Campbell were elected.
The combination of heavy negative advertising against the BC Liberals – who initially held a 30-point lead -- and positive action by the NDP government combined to give Glen Clark a stunning upset victory.
'We need to bring people back to politics': Dix
Clark won more seats but fewer votes than Campbell's battered crew.
But the approach Dix takes to politics today has evolved since 1996.
"A lot of people think the way to respond to negative ads is to run negative ads ourselves," Dix told the Parksville Qualicum Beach news last May.
"The reason we are not going to do this is very simple. First, 1.7 million people didn't vote in the last provincial election.
"We are not going to bring anybody back to politics by deciding the winner of an election is the person with the best ad agency to run the nastiest negative ads. We need to bring people back to politics and that means offering some hope that change will happen," Dix argued.
And despite being the target of extensive personal attack ads, Dix has not wavered.
For their part, the BC Liberals surprisingly say they aren't going to go negative either.
Mike McDonald, the BC Liberal Party campaign director, claims his team is going to play nice.
"We're not going to run a nasty campaign," he told The Province's Michael Smyth.
"A campaign is where you debate. You talk about your strengths and your opponent's weaknesses. That's what we intend to do and we'll do it in a very fair, honest and factual way," McDonald says.
But even if McDonald is correct, he leaves unsaid the role of CC4BC and possibly other BC Liberal supporters running third party advertising.
Big turn-off
Regardless of that, other academic research should also concern the BC Liberals and their ad buying allies in CC4BC because it shows that increased repetition of negative advertising has the reverse effect on voters -- they are turned right off by it.
A new study out last month showed participants a series of ads, including negative political attack ads.
The study found that "after three exposures, participants had more favorable opinions of the candidate who sponsored the ad. But, after five airings, viewers' opinions became increasingly negative."
Juliana Fernandes, an assistant professor at the University of Miami in Florida who specializes in political communication, conducted the research and cautions that those using negative ads "should use negative ads strategically, not overwhelmingly."
Whoops -- that doesn't seem to have been the CC4BC approach with its carpet-bombing negative ad campaign.
But don't just blame political parties and advocacy groups for going negative – blame the media, says Benoit, who has extensively studied both American and international elections.
"We know that news coverage is always more negative than the candidates and the news coverage does not emphasize policy as much as the candidates do – the news focuses on horserace first and then character," Benoit argues persuasively.
Will Dix's boycott of negative advertising not only help the BC NDP win the election but also change the channel from nasty politics to policy?
If so, Dix will become the second B.C. opposition leader to easily win an election without running a single negative attack ad. Ironically the first was Gordon Campbell in his 2001 landslide victory over the NDP.
Disclosure: Tieleman supported Adrian Dix's NDP leadership bid.



DPL said...

As the Private eye on TV used to say. "Gimme the facts mam". If you have somethings to hide , you never tell the truth but try to cover the mess with some candy. If the truth isn't about to hurt you, use it every time. Dix is doing it right, Clark is just babbling

scotty on Denman said...

Friday: Just the facts, Ma'am.
No, attack ads are not a sure thing, per se. They're probably ineffective when produced perfunctorily and definitely risky for the perpetrator about whom the electorate has already formed a negative opinion. The BC Liberals began their popular slide after corrupting the BC Rail corruption trial because it looked like they had something to hide. Their 2009 deficit lie, the HST lie, trying to frustrate the Anti-HST petition by (mis-) appointing a partisan Chief Electoral Officer, even Christy breaking her early election promise all tend to compound BC Liberals' reputation for dishonesty and are all available and recent enough (in an unbroken-chain sense) to work their cognitive bias. The ads run the risk of neatly confirming that reputation of dishonesty.

Character assassins and advertising berserkers don't normally highlight the attacker or invite comparison between target and perpetrator. Unfortunately for the BC Liberals, their attack ads do just that, so when they attack Dix's integrity they actually invite a closer look at their own and consequently suffer from the immediately startling contrast.

Being hoist upon one's own petard means being unintentionally, but probably deservedly, blown up by one's own bomb. BC Liberal attack ads hurt them more than they hurt Dix and, being so far back in the polls, make them doubly stupid.

Anonymous said...

They are a double edged sword, but are more of a lame excuse of not selling what is you stand for.

The NDP actually ended up less in the popular vote than the BC Liberals at the time (1996), but won more seats so hence another term of NDP.

Comparing the two types, the negative ads are more on creative ways to eck out a message, with many not based on facts.

The NDP would be wise not to get too heavy into the negative ads.

In 1991, Social Credit had negative ads and materials against the NDP, and they did not work at all.

The federal Conservatives had negative ads against Chretien and that proved to be a disaster.

Dix is doing it right, although weak at this point on what it is he and his collective are wanting to do as government.

The negative ads against Campbell in 1996, were from a different time, and even the BC Liberal campaign in 1996 at the provincial level was rather weak. It was run by left overs from the old federal Liberal wing of the BC Liberal Party and showed. Cheap quality paper used on their policy book.

Sorry Bill. Negative ads are just too easy to put together 9and PR wonks love them because they are easy to do unless it is profoundly creative. Going on about Christy's idiotic Premiership isn't going to win any more votes than are out there waiting for the NDP now.

Dix would be smart to play it smart with positive ads telling BC voters what he wants to do for the people.

In other words, get back to your basics:

Ask for the sale.

Don't keep going on about what's bad about your competition.

Anonymous said...

In regards to NOW Communications, it is run by Ron Johnson who is quite a supporter of the NDP, running for them once in 1986, and lost.

Another aspect to negative campaigning is that Big Labour also tends to get into it, such as the BCGEU and HEU, so they end up doing the work for the NDP riding their own issues and bringing those out to the forefront. The BCTF and most notably CUPE does the same thing, so if those complain about the rather silly and idiotic ads from Jim Sheppard which are obviously not working, are these same people going to complain about the ads from Big Labour?

Noticed too that Big Labour did not have alot of negative ads in 1996.

SO one again just the facts, and
toss out the PR wonk's happy to do it negative ads.

Let's see what the NDP wants to do for British Columbia.

In other words if the NDP wants governmnt that badly, make them win it, rather than the BC Liberals lose it.

We've seen all there is in regards to Christy Clark's idiocy in governing. How much more does there need to be repeated over and over again ad nauseam? We get it.

and she's out.

Aaron A. said...

Perhaps I missed this but where did all the money collected by the provincial government go while the hst was up and running?
I think they had a surplus of revenue that equaled something around $820 million a year. So why has none of that money been put towards the magical $1.6 billion ? I also believe the federal government received something like $300 million a year in surplus revenue from B.C. and I can not figure out how that money was not considered in paying off this debt. I have been looking everywhere to find answers but there is no news coverage. All I can find is Christy clark going on about the $1.6 billion we still apparently owe yet it would seem to me that we have allready earned enough to pay off this debt nearly 2 fold. If anyone knows what's going on with this please let me know thanks!

Aaron A. said...

Perhaps I missed this but where did all the money collected by the provincial government go while the hst was up and running?
I think they had a surplus of revenue that equaled something around $820 million a year. So why has none of that money been put towards the magical $1.6 billion ? I also believe the federal government received something like $300 million a year in surplus revenue from B.C. and I can not figure out how that money was not considered in paying off this debt. I have been looking everywhere to find answers but there is no news coverage. All I can find is Christy clark going on about the $1.6 billion we still apparently owe yet it would seem to me that we have allready earned enough to pay off this debt nearly 2 fold. If anyone knows what's going on with this please let me know thanks!

Anonymous said...

No, there wasn't any surplus at the end. It went to pay back Ottawa as per the agreement to keep the HST intact for x years, but since it was rescinded the money given to BC has to be paid back.

and yes it is owed because it was part of the signed agreement. If people were smart enough to hang on until the expiry of the agreement in about two years, and let the NDP government of the future day rescind the agreement according to what was signed, then there wouldn't have been any additional paybacks.

and no "we" have not earned enough directly off the HST to earn it.

If anyone received an HST rebate cheque, enjoy it. It will be your last.

The GST rebate cheques next year will be significantly lower.

Which will probably mean less extra money for a dinner at a restaurant which may lead to reduce revenues at the restaurant which may lead to the owners controlling costs, which may lead to reduced hours, which may lead to...

and so on and so on and such like.

Aaron A. said...

Well I do not want to argue, I do know that while the HST was here it did in fact bring in surplus revenue. As to how much as I indicate above those numbers are based on the first year of HST.
You seem to know how it all balances.
Can you tell me where I can find these values?
I.E. How much HST was collected by the federal and provincial government per year

DPL said...

Like Aron , we would all like to know, but sure as heck wont find out till the sleazy BC Liberals are blown out of office. If by some odd circumstances they get another term, we would never find out about a lot of money being spread around to their friends.

Anonymous said...

You can do your own homework on that one. Good way to learn is to do it yourself.

No way am I ever going to provide
researched facts to assist here. No way.

I'll keep reading this blog as it is entertainment.

Esp. the responses to NDP topics (none critical of the NDP obviously) which will start next week.

Be around when the first one arrives.

In the meantime, do your research. it's all out there if you know where and want to take the time to look.

In politics, there's no sense in someone taking you by the hand. You have to learn some things yourself.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Some of you fools above miss the point as usual. CC spends millions of taxpayers money dissing the NDP because there is absolutely NOTHING positive about the Liberals to say.
An HST cheque to those who can no longer eat out, and pay their inflated hydro bill is minor compensation for those thousands nearing bankruptcy.
At least the big banks are happy with their new SCAB labour.

Anonymous said...

The Big Banks do not have SCAB labour, those affected are still with the RBC.

Been near bankruptcy myself, but it had nothing to do with the BC Liberals.

The company was in dire straits during the 1990s, thanks to the NDP and their stupid policies in regards to fostering small business.

But came back from the brink and am successful in business. But the NDP Left does not like successful people.

Nice try Sherlock.

Anonymous said...

It is what children do when they don't want to take responsibility for their own actions, which is never. kids are always innocent and it is always the fault of someone else. Since when does the government employees get to pass go, collect six million dollars and get out of jail free?

Anonymous said...

Foreign replacement workers are scabs whether you like it or not. Glad you are happy with a 7% unemployment. Bring on the Chinese and Mexicans!

BTW, I made more money in real estate in the nineties than you'll ever see in the 21st century in this province, Mr. Watson.

Better call the Whambulance!

Anonymous said...

Since the criminals were fooled into thinking the Libs were Gods gift. These "employees" were't given a "free" pass. Taxpayers were on the hook for this criminal activity. Activity that Dix better get to the bottom of. And all the other criminal activity.
3 weeks to go!

Anonymous said...

So what or who are the "Criminals"? Exactly what violations of the Criminal Code of Canada has there been?

But don't forget, the union dominance of NDP politics is going to end too.

and none too soon.

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