Political Campaigns: Accentuating The Negative

Viewers, beware: campaign commercials can be nasty

It wasn't pretty. The challenger's advertising vilified the Vice President as a feckless aristocrat while touting himself as a man of the people. The Vice President's campaign was quick to retaliate, depicting his opponent as a reckless enemy of the Constitution. The riposte must have worked, because the Vice President edged out his rival in the voting.

John Adams' victory over Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election of 1796 might not have been due to Adams' strident handbills, but it gave birth to a tradition in American politics that still flourishes: accentuating the negative. The rule is: when in doubt, attack;...

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