In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns

September 20, 2006

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.

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