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Posted 11/07/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The one good thing now that the election of 2012 is over (or at least we can assume that the election is over) is that the end has also finally come to all of the negative political ads.
While survey after survey has shown that negative political ads turn off voters, one would never know that the political parties took much stock in what those numbers say by the large number of negative ads that were constantly being thrust before voters. The electorate this campaign season probably saw the worst television advertising that we have ever witnessed not only in the presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but also here in North Dakota in the U.S. Senate race between Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg.
If voters were only to watch these television ads and had to draw an informed and educated opinion as to whom would be the best candidate to serve them, it is doubtful that the electorate would have come away with any useful knowledge. Instead of the candidates coming out and saying what it was that they intended to do as either the President of the United States or as a U.S. Senator representing North Dakota, the voters were instead repeatedly told that the other candidate was not the person to elect.
So if people dislike seeing negative political ads, why do the political parties do them? The short answer is that instead of trying to convince voters that their candidate is the better person for the office, it is far easier to tear the opponent apart.
The only purpose of negative political ads is to plant some “seeds of doubt” in the mind of the electorate. It is the hope of those willing to spend millions, if not billions, of dollars in negative ads that someone is going to take what the ad is saying about the other candidate as possibly being true and use that as a basis for how they are going to cast their vote.
And at that level, negative political ads work. Which is why this year, the negative political ads on television were the worst in the nation’s and in North Dakota’s history.
From my standpoint, and as will no doubt be borne out once again after another round of election surveys questioning the value of this campaign tool, negative ads do very little to sway or influence a voter who is well read and has a good understanding of the candidates. Nor do negative political ads change the minds of those people who have already made up their minds on how they are going to vote.
But as we have seen far too many times this campaign season, negative political ads on television aren’t going to go away. And if anything, they will only continue to become the only form of political ads that voters will see on television in the future.
It’s unfortunate. But at least for the next four years, we can stop looking for the television’s remote control to try to avoid being subjected to more negativity.