ADVANTAGES

The harsh tone of political advertising, the often controversial techniques employed by political advertisers, and the fact that the competing claims made in campaign ads are beyond review, have raised questions about the goals of political advertisers. Many critics have suggested that political advertisers seek votes at any cost, even including a degraded sense of public regard for the candidates and the electoral process. Perhaps the amount of negativity featured in political campaigns is designed to shrink the "market" rather than increase the sponsor’s relative share. Discouraging people from voting is much more feasible than persuading supporters of one candidate to vote for the opponent. It is well known that most Americans hold fast to their partisan attachments and that the act of voting generally serves expressive (as opposed to instrumental) needs (for a review of research on political participation, see Rosenstone and Hansen, 1992). Since people acquire their affiliation with the Democratic or Republican parties early in life, the probability that they will cross party lines in response to an advertising campaign is slight. And since the motivation to vote is typically symbolic or psychological (in the sense that one’s vote is unlikely to be pivotal in determining the outcome of the election), increasing the level of controversy and conflict in ad campaigns is bound to discourage voters from making a choice and casting a vote. In effect, negative campaigns create an "avoidance" set within the electorate (see Houston et al., 1998, 1999).

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