Strategists know attack ads work

Kamloops Daily News
February 14, 2013 01:00 AM

Adrian Dix warrants applause for taking the high road in the leadup to the provincial election on May 14.

The NDP leader says his party's election campaign will be "positive" and will avoid attack ads on Christy Clark's Liberals. The reason? Former NDP leader Carole James says she believes the public is wary of negative ads.

While we'd like to see an election campaign devoid of nastiness, petty personal attacks and long-held grudges, the likelihood of that happening is virtually non-existent. The fact is, attack ads work and, as cynical as it may be, a positive campaign doesn't get the same traction with voters as slinging mud.

That's why Stephen Harper's Conservatives have done so well with attack ads and easily brush away criticism of their tactics. The Tories have had a field day trying to destroy the leadership qualities of former Liberal heads Paul Martin, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Then there's NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who has already seen his face on Tory ads, and there's no doubt Liberal frontrunner Justin Trudeau is in the crosshairs.

If the Conservatives couldn't craft the public's perception of their opponents' leadership abilities, they wouldn't do it. Of course, it just isn't Harper who uses attack ads. Even the prime minister himself has faced the brunt of attack ads from Liberals questioning his so called "hidden agenda," an accusation he tried for years to shake and still pops up now and again.

And the U.S.? Well, it's got attack ads down to a science. Last year alone, nearly $1 billion was spent between the Obama and Romney campaigns in the leadup to the presidential election. And from one night of watching American television, one can safely assume the percentage of negativity was very, very high.

Still, as much as we like to slam attack ads, they do have their place. Speculation, personal shots and half-truths are one thing, but attacking another party's poor record on any range of issues is just plain smart.

Of course, everything will have a spin - even "positive" ads - so, ultimately, it comes down to voters to be up on the issues and to carve out the truth - or the best version of it - for themselves.

Dix has earned our admiration for taking the high road, but blame it on the our cynical day job for thinking his tune will change depending on where he is in the polls and how close we are to election day.


© Kamloops Daily News

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