Guest Editorial: Negative advertising takes center stage

Democratic consultant Jason Stanford argues in a Huffington Post article that negative advertising is a good thing, if you like democracy. He argues that voters pay more attention to criticism than praise and that raising the voters’ hackles also gets them to the polls.
We would like to believe otherwise, but the research shows he’s correct. To drive the point home, he points to the recent Wisconsin election, which was highly negative, and yet drove more people to the polls than in the general election.
Mr. Stanford’s thoughts are of particular importance in Vermont. His firm, Stanford Associates, was the firm hired by the Peter Shumlin campaign in the last weeks of the campaign against Republican Brian Dubie. The firm’s specialty is opposition research.
When Mr. Shumlin went negative against Mr. Dubie, it worked. Mr. Stanford’s website uses the Shumlin campaign as a testimonial for its effectiveness: “After two weeks of comparative television ads, Dubie had dropped 8 points as Shumlin established a slim lead that he held onto even as the bottom dropped out for Democrats across the country. On Nov. 2, 2010, Peter Shumlin won by 1 percent.”
For those who remember, Mr. Dubie had targeted Mr. Shumlin with his own negative ads. In effect, Mr. Stanford argues that his negatives beat Mr. Dubie’s negatives.
Again, he’s correct. As much as we would like to argue otherwise, negative ads work, which is why they are continually employed. If they didn’t work, the marketplace for political consultants would be different. Those who argued that Mr. Dubie hurt his own campaign through negative advertising were wrong. His negative advertising simply wasn’t as effective as Mr. Shumlin’s negative advertising.
In a story reported several weeks ago, the Shumlin campaign has employed Mr. Stanford’s firm again. The objective is opposition research on Mr. Shumlin’s Republican challenger Randy Brock.
The firm is unabashedly Democratic, as per this quote: “Sure, we serve Republicans. Would you like them skewered, roasted, or deep-fried?” Thus, Vermonters can expect a negative campaign against Mr. Brock, if the poll numbers for the governor begin to show any weaknesses.
Mr. Stanford apologizes for nothing. “The lesson that voters keep trying to teach us is clear. If you want to rock the vote, use sticks and stones.”
Obviously, Mr. Stanford does not have a monopoly on negative advertising and there are as many Republican consultants who are schooled in the art of negative advertising as there are Democratic consultants.
Mr. Brock will need to employ some negative advertising of his own if he is to find a chink in the Shumlin armor. When he does, he will be pilloried by those who object. It would not be surprising to have the governor say that he intends to stay above the fray and not resort to negative advertising, that Vermonters deserve better.
Unless he needs to.
Then, no problem.
To be prepared, Mr. Stanford and his associates have gotten out their spades and have begun their “opposition research.” More than likely Mr. Brock has begun to formulate his own brand of inquisition.
Mr. Stanford’s contention that negative advertising is what’s saving our democracy is a stretch. It would be more accurate for him to simply say, “Hey, this is how I make my living. Everyone’s gotta eat. And it works because my customers keep coming back.”
The same is said about the making of laws and sausage.
And we haven’t asked for anything different.
by Emerson Lynn
St. Albans Messenger

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