Negative Ads– Republican Style

In Virginia, they are gearing up for the biannual House of Delegates (the VA legislature) races.  One Northern Virginia delegate seems to have taken negative ads to a new low– using blog comments against his opponent:

RICHMOND, Sept. 21 — A Republican state legislator from Fairfax County
has launched an attack ad on cable TV against his Democratic opponent
that features unidentified, unverified quotes from a blog.

The ad by Del. Timothy D. Hugo points to a new form of negative
campaigning in which information for an attack ad is sourced to
comments posted on the Internet instead of more authoritative sources
such as news reports or public records.

Ads that quote from blogs, on which it is often difficult to identify
the author, represent a benchmark in increasingly negative political
campaigns, several political analysts said.

“This is one of the places where the old way of doing politics and
the new way is coming into conflict,” said David Weinberger, a research
fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
“We have developed a blogosphere that is full of lively debate . . .
but at the same time we have political marketers who will use anything
they can to advance their own cause.”

In Hugo's ad, a narrator recounts what “others are saying” about
Simmons. As quotes flash across the screen, the narrator says Simmons
is “running the most cowardly campaign I have ever seen” and “has been
lying to voters the entire campaign.”

Its one thing to take things from newspapers out of context, as is traditionally done, but quoting anonymous blog comments has all the credibility of running something in an ad attributed to “my neighbor up the street.”  Alas, the weaknesses of human information processing being what they are, I suspect that this technique will be successful in getting many voters to have a negative impression of Simmons.  I suppose we can expect more of this in the future.  And yes, probably from Democrats, too, but it is worth noting that a Republican is the first to take this particularly low road. 

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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