By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
People say they don’t like them. New research may bear that idea out, but most people agree that negative campaign advertising works.
“There’s an interesting distinction between what candidates call a contrasting issues ad and a negative ad,” said Sue Strickler, professor of political science at Eastern New Mexico University. “There’s a fine line about what becomes a negative ad.”
Strickler says that in their own eyes an ad that a candidate runs isn’t negative — it’s just pointing out differences between them and their competition. But it’s in the minds of the voters and the target candidate where those lines are drawn. She says crossing those lines is nothing new, however.
“The reason they’re there is because they work,” she says of negative ads. “They don’t necessarily change minds, though.”
Strickler contends people tend to remember negative ads better, and most of the effect comes from the reinforcement of beliefs a voter already had in the first place.
Samuel Bradley, an advertising professor at Texas Tech’s College of Mass Communications recently completed research showing that negative political ads do have a physiological and psychological effect on voters.
He noted, in a news release from TTU, that with $4.5 billion predicted to be spent on political advertising in the next election cycle, American voters should get ready to feel uncomfortable and remember a lot of mudslinging sentiments.
Bradley’s research showed that people exposed to negative political advertising experienced preattentive eye reflex and brain reactions that indicated a desire to move away more so than neutral ads.
“This is the very beginning of the fight-or-flight response,” Brady said. “The body is saying, ‘This is bad.’ So the preattentive reflex is bigger, and the body starts preparing to move away.”
He says that people remember negative ads because the brain finds them arousing. Since viewing the ads isn’t a life-or-death situation, the brain has time to store them away.
“I certainly don’t like the negative advertising,” said Dolores Penrod, an active Portales Democrat. “I would much rather see candidates talk about where they stand on the issues.”
Penrod admits that negative campaigns aren’t new, especially in New Mexico. She said she was appalled when she moved to the state in 1959 and found a very negative campaign going on the next year for governor between incumbent Republican Edwin Meachem and Portales Democrat John Burroughs. Burroughs narrowly won the race.
“I don’t think it’s changed at all,” Penrod lamented.
She even pointed further back to the mudslinging battles between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson for president in the early days of the nation.
Roosevelt County Republican Chairman Matt Rush says he doesn’t like negative campaigning either.
“I’d rather people state the issues and where they stand on them,” he said. “I think people are tired of all the negative stuff in our country.”
Rush noted that much of the negative advertising put out these days is done by third parties, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the candidate it’s meant to support.
He and others interviewed said they believe campaign rules where the candidate has to state that they’ve approved the ad have helped clean things up to some extent and make things clearer to voters as to who actually is making a negative declaration.
Strickler, Penrod and Rush all think that the recent headlines that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee withdrew a negative ad set to air just prior to the Iowa caucuses are genuine on his part — though Penrod expressed a little skepticism about why he then showed the ad to the press.
“It seemed strange that he played it for the media,” Penrod said. “It seemed rather calculating.”
Rush says he believes Huckabee simply felt pressured by the press to prove what he was saying about pulling the ad.
Rush, Penrod and Strickler all agree that the coming political season will be one of the most interesting in recent history.
Strickler points out that besides the scramble to fill congressional seats in New Mexico, this will be the first time in many years that both the Republican and Democratic nominations are open without an incumbent or vice president running as a shoo-in for the party’s pick.
• New Mexico municipal elections
• When: March 4
• Candidate filing date: Tuesday
• Voter registration deadline: Feb. 5
• Early and absentee voting: Feb. 5-Feb. 28
• Election: March 4
Positions: City Council wards A, B, C, D
Incumbents: Alfredo Bachicha, Gary Watkins, Donald K. Shafer, Michael G. Miller
• Roosevelt County
Positions: Commisioners district 1, 2
Incumbents: Dennis Lopez, David Sanders
Position: County Clerk
Incumbent: Janet Collins
Position: County Treasurer
Incumbent: Nancy Belcher
Position: Probate Judge
Incumbent: Nancy Gentry
Declaration of candidacy and voting for county offices will follow the same schedule as for state offices. County candidates will sign up with their county clerk, and state candidates will sign up with the Secretary of State.
State offices open for candidacy include U.S. Senate, to fill the seat now held by Pete Domenici, R-N.M., as well as all three U.S. Representative seats. Representatives Tom Udall, Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce have said they will run for the Senate seat.
Jan. 28 — Governor issues primary election proclamation
Feb. 2 — Filing day for pre-primary convention designations
Feb. 15 — Last day for presidential nominating committee to meet
Feb. 22 — Deadline for challenging nominating petitions
March 11 — Filing day for primary election
March 16 — Last day to hold pre-primary convention
March 17 — Last filing day for president of the U.S.
March 18 — Filing day for legislative seats, district judge, magistrate judge, district attorney, Public Regulation Committee, Public Education Commission and all county offices
April 1 — Candidate withdrawal from primary election
May 6 — Absentee voting for primary election begins; voter registration for primary election closes at 5 p.m.
May 17 — Early in-person voting begins
May 31 — Early in-person voting ends
June 3 — Primary election, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
June 9 — Voter registration re-opens
June 4 — Filing date for independent candidates, including president
June 24 — Filing date for minor party candidates
Sept. 2 — Filing day for write-in candidates
Sept. 3 — Candidate withdrawal from general election
Oct. 7 — Last day to register to vote in general election; absentee voting begins
Oct. 18 — Early in-person voting begins
Nov. 1 — Early in-person voting ends
Nov. 4 — General election.
Source: New Mexico Secretary of State Web site: sos.state.nm.us