If you’ve paid attention to much of the political advertising and such over the past few years, you likely noticed that they are getting more and more negative, more polarizing, and more aggressive. Naturally, the idea of most of these is to shame or point out the flaws of their opponents.
But as recent studies show, the plan might not be working nearly as well as before and definitely not as well as they likely hoped.
According to Beth Fossen of Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, research has begun to show that voters don’t actually like all that negativity.
Taking data from US elections from 2000 to 2012, Fossen noted that while negative TV and social media ads do usually result in voters who are less likely to vote for those being attacked or criticized, they also make people less likely to vote at all.
She notes in an article written for the International Business Times this is because, over the years, as negativity and polarization builds around political elections, people have begun to view politics, and so elections in general, negatively. Naturally, people don’t want to have anything to do with things that make them unhappy, angry or bring about such polarizing feelings.
And so they avoid it altogether.
Americans today are less likely to watch the news, less likely to pay attention to our politicians, and are less likely to vote as a result.
Additionally, this doesn’t just translate to their political decisions.
As elections and political campaigns have gotten more polarizing, so too has the general population. So much so that for far too many, they no longer even associate with those who might be of a differing party or viewpoint.
According to recent polls, Americans have slowly let their political identity mold their nonpolitical decisions. Fewer and fewer Democrats want to hang out with Republicans and vice versa.
Well, because talking about just about anything could suddenly bring up viewpoints that could translate to politics and their respective views on such. And since all that has been increasingly negative over the years, the natural reaction is for those people to get angry fairly easily, thus ending friendships or at the least putting a strain on them.
We’ve all seen or heard about people who have suddenly flown off the handle and literally and physically attacked someone just because they said or even wore something that the other doesn’t agree with. For example, an eighteen-year-old kid was just mowed down by a vehicle in a western state simply because the Democratic driver didn’t like the anti-Biden shirt he was wearing.
Unfortunately, stuff like this happens every day, making anger surrounding politics and our elections even more normal.
This is only encouraged by political ads that smear opponents or even portray that opponent getting physically hurt or killed, as we’ve begun to see more and more of them as of late.
But as Fossen notes, this doesn’t necessarily translate to the attacking political candidates getting any more votes. While looking through data from the 2016 presidential election, she and her colleagues noticed that those with more polarizing messages didn’t really get any more votes out of it.
Instead, those who did the best were those who seemed to be more centrist, as well as consistent in their messaging.
For example, if a normally more moderate candidate suddenly puts out an aggressive or extreme ad, voters are more likely to be turned off, hurting that candidate’s chances. Similarly, voters don’t seem to like candidates who always go after their opponents.
As a result, Fossen notes that candidates would do well to maybe seek out some different ad strategies and perhaps “curb the negativity.”
After all, with midterms quickly approaching this year, there is much at stake. Every House seat, as well as about one-third of the Senate, is up for grabs. Polarizing voters with negativity won’t help either side or our legislative houses, no matter how much you spend on doing so.