Election ads may impact voting decisions

By Hetal Bhatt

As the November presidential election draws closer, the jury is still out as to whether the controversial negative ad campaigns for both Senator Kerry and President Bush will have any impact on voters’ decisions.

With recent media attention focused on the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads, many are starting to question the tactics used by both the campaigns and their independent supporters.

Negative TV ads are nothing new in presidential elections – however, this year’s campaigns are dealing with more negative ads created by “527s,” groups named for Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. The code permits independent groups to use unlimited and unregulated contributions from individuals, corporations and unions to promote their cause. While they are not officially coordinated by any candidate, they can still make a strong impact on voters and tilt the scales in favor of the side they support, said Thomas Rudolph, assistant professor in political science.

“A lot of the 527 groups are now more powerful than ever, and they also have a heavy hand in the advertising market so they can aggressively advance their point of view,” Rudolph said.

But it is not only 527 groups that are loudly expressing their negative views of opposing candidates. Big names in Hollywood, such as Michael Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, have already made headlines this year by mercilessly slamming President Bush.

Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, accused the Kerry-Edwards campaign of standing by and welcoming such inflammatory rhetoric instead of responsibly distancing itself from it.

“When you have John Kerry and John Edwards standing in the same room and applauding this kind of outrageous rhetoric, it shows you exactly how low they have stooped to try to advance their political cause,” she said. “(The Bush campaign) welcomes healthy and respectful debate on the issues affecting our country, but there’s only one campaign that has (resorted) to irresponsible negative advertising, and that is the Kerry campaign.”

Luis Vizcaino, a spokesman for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, counters the notion that the Kerry campaign has overdone its negative rhetoric by saying that the campaign is simply stating the facts.

“I don’t think that talking about the Bush administration’s mistakes is negative campaigning; it’s only realistic,” he said. “For the Bush administration to say that its negative campaigning is just using a deflection technique because they have no positive record to run on.”

Regardless of what either side thinks of its own “negative ads,” Rudolph said pushing for agreement of the definition of “negative campaigning” is a never-ending battle. However, he did state voters could be dissuaded if either side ran excessively negative campaigns.

“The evidence is mixed that negative campaigning actually works,” he said. “There’s evidence that suggests that it may turn off independent voters to the race altogether, or that it may only succeed in mobilizing your opponents’ momentum toward defeating you.”

Local voters also are suspicious of negative campaigning.

“I think that whoever is doing more of the bashing, the majority of the people out there will believe they have something to hide, which they’re trying to cover up by throwing rocks at the other candidate,” said Jason Villanueva, sophomore in LAS.

Rudolph said negative attacks are inevitable, but a good balance of showing the opposing side’s weaknesses while focusing on one’s own strengths is ideally what each candidate should be shooting for.

With that balance in mind, both the Bush and Kerry camps said their campaigns are based on contemporary issues rather than the faults of their opponents.

What with this year’s heavy presence of independent groups flooding the airwaves with attack ads, Rudolph said each candidate will have to make sure they keep their campaign running on a balanced platform.

This balance will avoid excessive negativity and attract more voters in the election come November, Rudolph said.