Book Forum

In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns

(University of Chicago Press, 2006)

September 20, 2006 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM EDT


Featuring the author, John G. Geer, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Vanderbilt University; with comments by Jeremy Mayer, George Mason University; and moderated by John Samples, Director, Center for Representative Government, Cato Institute.

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Americans think negative campaign ads undermine elections and even democratic government itself. But John G. Geer argues that when political candidates attack each other, raising doubts about each other’s views and qualifications, voters—and the democratic process—benefit. In Defense of Negativity, Geer’s study of negative advertising in presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2004, asserts that proliferating attack ads are far more likely than positive ads to focus on salient political issues, rather than politicians’ personal characteristics. Accordingly, the ads enrich the democratic process, providing voters with relevant and substantial information before they head to the polls. Geer concludes that, if we want campaigns to grapple with relevant issues and address real problems, negative ads just might be the solution.