Negative Ads Unlikely to Deliver Key, Undecided Voter : AARP

An AARP analysis today revealed that the recent increase in negative advertising may work well on the general electorate, but critical undecided voters are less likely to respond.

The tendency for campaigns to “go negative” in the month leading up to election day has been hard to resist, but an AARP survey of undecided and leaning voters indicates that candidates who focus on issues and do not stir up partisan anger are rewarded with greater support from the swing voters they need to attract to win the election.

“Undecided voters are far more interested in learning how the candidates will solve our economic crisis than hearing about something their opponent said or did years ago,” said Tom Nelson, AARP’s Chief Operating Officer. “Americans want answers and they’re entitled to them. The candidates need to stop pointing fingers and start offering solutions; the candidate that can show he’s able to do this is more likely to win the undecided voter.”

Part of the explanation for the choice to go negative is that, sadly, such attack ads work. A national poll of likely voters released last week found that 66% of likely voters felt that attack ads hurt the victim of attacks. However, such ads may cut both ways as the same survey found that 58% felt such ads hurt the candidate putting out the ad. What should be noted is that this external survey was done on likely voters, some of which may strongly support a candidate and excuse their attack ads as an acceptable means to their preferred end. When AARP’s data on undecided and leaning voters is examined however, there is much more of a desire to have issues addressed and less appetite for diversions.

Negative advertising also tends to move people to vote against candidates instead of for them. In notable moments of negative campaigning – specifically the Swift Boat Veterans ads in the 2004 Presidential race and the ‘Macaca’ incident in the 2006 Virginia Senate race – the candidate targeted by the negative tactics lost significant ground in their favorability ratings. Conversely, their ‘unfavorability’ scores rose. In 2004, Sen. Kerry’s favorability numbers dropped 15 points the month
following the Swift Boat ads, while his unfavorables rose 8; In 2006, Sen. Allen’s favorability numbers dropped 7 points the month following the ‘Macaca’ incident and his unfavorables rose 7. While this may not seem surprising, it often leads to a situation where people are voting against candidates, instead of for them.

“Our nation’s problems are far too great for Americans to be choosing our next leaders as the lesser of two evils,” added Nelson. “Whoever wins this election will have to tackle serious economic and health care issues and do so quickly. It’s imperative that the bipartisan political will exists in order for either candidate to be successful as President.”

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world’s largest-circulation magazine with over 33 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP’s 40 million members and Americans 50+; AARP Segunda Juventud, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community.

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