Negativity at work

Jayden Hoksbergen—Staff Writer

It became increasingly difficult to watch a YouTube video in Iowa without first being subjected to a political ad in which Joni Ernst destroyed Theresa Greenfield’s ideals or Greenfield bashed Ernst’s person. 

As Election Day loomed, political ads soared at an all-time high. And at that point in the race, negative campaigning from any and every candidate was unavoidable. 

Jeff Taylor, a political science professor at Dordt, noted the negative campaigning in the Senate race between Greenfield and Ernst as the most prominent. 

“I’ve seen more from Greenfield,” Taylor said. “But I think it’s because she has a lot more money.” Greenfield had fundraised around four times as much as Ernst. However, both sides utilized heavy negative advertising. “I’m not getting much positive mail from anybody,” Taylor said. 

At the Senate level, negative campaigning Had increased because the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate nearly equaled each other. Democrats wanted to flip the Senate, and negative campaigning stood as their best bet. Studies surrounding negative campaigning have increased dramatically since the 1990s, correlating with an increase of concern over the tactic. Still, the strategy becomes more frequent with every election cycle. 

In 2012, Erika Franklin Fowler, a political scientist at Wesleyan University, said the presidential election of that year might go down in history as one of the most negative. But in 2016, negative ads during presidential campaigns climbed higher. During one month of the 2016 election, 53 percent of ads leaned negative as opposed to 48 percent from a similar time period during the 2012 election, according to a study done by the Wesleyan Media Project. 

This election season, President Trump turned bolder in his negative campaign efforts. While negative attacks typically begin during the last few weeks of the campaign, his campaign had been ran aggressive ads against Biden since the summer. He even tweeted to promote a new ad about “Sleepy Joe.” 

On the contrary, popular political science belief holds that the incumbent candidate should use negative campaigning less than their opposition. 

In an interview with USA Today, Travis Ridout, a professor at Washington State University who studies political messaging, said that Trump lagging in the polls gave cause to his negative campaigning. 

“Usually, we have an incumbent who’s in the lead, an incumbent who’s risk averse,” Ridout said. “This time around, we’ve got an incumbent who’s way behind.” 

However, the upswing in negative campaigning led to annoyance from voters. In an editorial, the Sioux City Journal expressed its distaste of the negative ads that both Ernst and Greenfield aired. The journal editorial board started its article, saying, “Have you already had your fill of negative Joni ErnstTheresa Greenfield U.S. Senate race ads? We have.” 

Despite their aversion to the negative campaigns, the Sioux City Journal admitted the strategy does work. And they’re right. In his article, Haselmayer said negative campaigning works because of the “negativity bias.” Meaning, people are more likely to pay attention to negative information rather than positive information. 

Taylor added that the goal of negative campaigning is not to gain more votes. Rather, the candidate putting out negative ads simply aims to take votes from the opposition. Also, he noted that the messaging may have damaged Ernst more that Greenfield, because the latter has not held a Senate office yet. Ernst held on to win though, defeating Greenfield with a swing a little under seven points. 

Thankfully, the firestorm of politically driven negativity will now hopefully come to an end. Still, Taylor warns that regardless of the season, students should approach political campaigns with critical thought. “Have a healthy skepticism,” Taylor said. “Do your own research.” 

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