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Why do negative political ads work?

Some viewers complain, but experts say negative ads drive voters to the polls.

ATLANTA — ATLANTA— Voters may complain about the negative political commercials that are dominating our airwaves, but experts said they work and we should not expect them to stop.

They can be downright vicious.

11Alive’s Why Guy spoke to two experts on the topic, and both agree.

“Negative advertising works,” said David Schweidel, Professor of Marketing at Emory’s Goiuzueta Business School.

“They do work,” agreed Joseph Watson, Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism.

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Viewers complain. Television stations have no choice but to run them. Candidates keep using them because they elicit a reaction from voters.

Schweidel said while an ad promoting a candidate’s qualifications are more informative, it’s the negative ads people remember.

“It triggers a stronger reaction,” explained Schweidel. “I might want to get you to like the ad, but that’s not my primary objective. My primary objective is to get you to vote.”

Watson adds that negative ads often stick to the candidate who is the target.

“They define the opponent and shape the electorate’s views of them,” said Watson. “The ad has the ability to shape the media narrative surrounding a campaign.”

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Schweidel’s research indicates the source of the ad is important.

“It’s particularly effective when it comes from the candidate,” said Schweidel.

In some cases, there can be an advantage if a negative ad comes from a third party like a Political Action Committee.

“I don’t get my hands dirty because a third party is making the case for me,” said Watson.

Georgia is looking at runoffs in two hotly contested Senate races, meaning the negative ads will keep coming.


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