LOY: Sad but true

Lawn gnomes all across the state have been locked away in sheds and replaced with those flamboyantly colored signs for candidates running for offices you did not even know existed. Bumper stickers, buttons and T-shirts of favorite candidates are everywhere.

The only other time that television and radio advertisements are this exciting is during the Superbowl. I thoroughly enjoy these advertisements because they are creative, insanely partisan and most importantly much different from your average 30-second interruption.

However, this incessant campaigning is bound to bring up every politician’s favorite whipping boy, the negative advertisement.

Television and radio are filled with these attack ads. Just last night I witnessed an attack advertisement that was attacking an opponent for his use of attack ads. Talk about confusing.

This negative campaigning has become a giant issue in campaigns all across the country. Underdog politicians from both sides complain about the below-the-belt tactics used by the other side. Phrases such as “comparative advertisement” are replaced with phrases such as “attack ads,” and they evoke a visceral emotional response that leads individuals to dislike negative campaigns.

The use of negative advertisements is a great thing for several reasons. Attack advertisements are almost always backed up by facts and sources. In order for an attack ad to be credible, it must be well-documented and founded in specific facts. If you watch any of these, you will often use phrases such as “according to” or “The New York Times says” within the commercial.

Viewers can go and fact-check these advertisements themselves if they wish. Such citation is much more infrequently seen in “positive” advertisements that merely feature smiling children and lists of accomplishments. Web sites such as factcheck.org, along with thousands of blogs and Web sites, provide the resources for voters to make up their minds regarding candidates.

Negative ads also shift the debate to the issues, instead of nebulous traits, like character and values. According to John Geer, a Vanderbilt political scientist, nearly three-fourths of the claims in negative ads from 1960-2004 focused on the issues and not attacks on character. There is nothing wrong with “attacking” your opponent’s views on issues, and this seems to be the case in the majority of advertisements.

Opponents of attack ads feel that negative campaigning leads to lower voter turnout, and thus would have a stifling effect on democracy.

However, according to David Mark, the author of “Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning,” the most partisan and toughest races bring the most people to the polls.

He uses the 2004 election as an example. The campaigns were some of the most heated in memory, and voter turnout was greater than 60 percent, the highest in 36 years.

The use of these advertisements also gets the party’s base motivated to go to the polls. Party members from both sides get emotionally involved in the campaign, candidates and issues, partially because of these advertisements. This makes them much more likely to go vote.

Negative campaigning is what democracy is all about. By using such techniques, candidates are able to not only motivate their base to vote, but also foster debate on issues that are important to their constituents. Individuals may not enjoy having their favorite John Basedow commercials interrupted with negative campaign advertisements, but they are beneficial to both candidates and voters.

Dusty Loy is a graduate student in veterinary medicine from Ames.