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Why Negative Ads Get Positive Results (Full Version)

Op-Heads: a virtual chat on the issues that matter

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Click on the video above to watch the full version pf BU profs Thomas Whalen and Tobe Berkovitz discussing negative political ads.

It didn’t take long for this presidential campaign to get personal. History should have prepared us for the mudslinging, except that both Barack Obama and John McCain made explicit pledges to run clean, issues-focused campaigns.

“One of the things I’m proud of, at the beginning of this campaign I said, ‘This is a different time,’”Obama said at a North Carolina campaign event in April 2008. “We’ve got to run a different kind of campaign. So we’re not going to go around doing negative ads. We’re going to keep it positive. We’re going to talk about the issues.”

A month earlier, at a town hall meeting in Virginia, McCain told the crowd, “Americans want more respectful campaigns,” and he promised to run one. A memo to reporters from McCain’s campaign manager elaborated. “Overheated rhetoric and personal attacks on our opponents distract from the big differences between John McCain’s vision for the future of our nation and the Democrats’.”

But both campaigns started tearing each other down almost immediately (view a McCain ad, and an Obama ad), and they have even been going negative about each other’s negativity.

So what happened? For some answers, BU Today consulted two veteran political observers: Thomas Whalen, a College of General Studies associate professor of political science and a presidential historian, and Tobe Berkovitz, College of Communication associate dean and an associate professor of communication, who has worked since 1974 as a political media consultant on presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial election campaigns.

Got an issue to debate? E-mail today@bu.edu with “Op-Heads” in the subject line.

Edward Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu. Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

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