Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Will negative ads by Doyle and Green promote apathy amongst voters

The race for governor of Wisconsin between Gov. Jim Doyle and U.S. Rep. Mark Green will finally come to an end on Nov. 7. However, those who have witnessed the mudslinging campaign ads put forth by each candidate may not want to show up to the voting booths.

The campaign ads used by Doyle and Green have certainly embodied the sleaziness of political advertising. It seems as if each political candidate has spent more time digging up dirt on his opponent than figuring out what he will do when he is elected.

Each candidate has used accusatory ads that suggest their opponent is a crook. Will such a depiction of each candidate in these ads have a negative impact on voter turnout?

The use of sensational, dishonest, and personal attacks is certainly bound to have more of a negative impact on voter turnout than a positive one.

Campaign ads for Democratic candidate Jim Doyle have done everything from accusing Green of borrowing illegal campaign funds to using celebrity Michael J. Fox to claim that Green is against stem cell research.

Republican candidate Mark Green’s campaign ads have been equally negative. His ads have charged Doyle with such things as taking part in a scandal with a former administration staffer and have even compared Doyle to Richard Nixon.

A 2002 study from Harvard University suggests that sensational attacks and personal attacks can negatively affect voter turnout.

The fact that Doyle and Green have used sensational and personal attacks against one another implies that their campaign ads will discourage citizens from voting.

One can see how such sensational attacks can affect how voters perceive their candidates through the comparison of Doyle and Nixon. The comparison made Doyle look like a devious politician, while Green’s reliability had to be questioned because of such a harsh and unethical comparison.

The accused as well as the accuser look bad in sensational ads because of the way each is represented. The accuser is represented as someone who is willing to say anything to win, while the accused is represented as someone who deserves skepticism and suspicion.

Doyle had an almost equally sensational ad stating that the $1.3 million Green transferred from his federal campaign to state campaign in 2005 was illegal. While the act by Green has aroused suspicion, the truth is that when he borrowed the money it was not illegal to do so.

As with the ad just mentioned, many ads in this race bring attention to claims about an opponent that are simply not true.

One of Green’s ads claimed that Doyle stood in the way of an 800-job expansion of home improvement retailer Menard Inc. The ad failed to mention that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is what really stood in the way of the expansion and that Menard’s president and CEO praised Doyle.

Lies such as this will deter voters who research their candidates. If they see that each candidate uses lies or half truths in their campaign ads, they are less likely to care about or commit to either one of the candidates and consequently not vote.

The personal attacks in these ads are also likely to heighten voter apathy.
A woman in one Green ad stated “I think Doyle is definitely corrupted by money.” On the other side, an ad by Doyle stated that Green was “lying to distract voters from the truth."

The themes of corruption, lies, and dirty money have become common threads in these ads. It is hard for voters to become motivated to vote when each candidate is thoroughly represented as a crook

While some journalists suggest that negative campaign ads stimulate voter turnout, this claim has not been proven. Studies have shown mixed results as to whether or not negative ads stimulate or are detrimental to voter turnout.

However, recent studies can correlate sensational and personal campaign attacks with negative voter turnout. Also common sense dictates that dishonest ads are more likely to create distrust for candidates and therefore create voter apathy.

At some point voters have to ask whether choosing between a crook and another crook is actually a choice. Where does the credibility lie when a political candidate accuses his opponent of being a liar and that same opponent has an identical accusation?

It remains to be seen whether these negative and dishonest ads will have an effect on who shows up to vote on Nov. 7. However, it’s hard to choose between candidates when more is known about what’s wrong with them than what is right.

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