By: Walt Milam
“What my opponent has clearly indicated in the past weeks is his interest in sending American jobs overseas and a loyalty to the outsourcing companies funding his campaign.”
The quote above is taken from a recent debate in a Virginia election and represents the negative, and frankly, accusatory campaigns that occur leading up to many political elections. Despite frequent criticism for negative campaigning which does not promote one’s own ideas but attacks opponent(s) and/ or his ideas, the practice persists among politicians.
Though policy issues interest and influences voters greatly, politicians manage to avoid actually articulating their reasons for supporting a policy. Rarely does one hear a politician explain the mechanism by which less or more taxes will stimulate jobs or balance the budget. Instead they use an array of moralistic claims, ad-hominem attacks and other fallacy filled strategies to persuade voters to vote for them on Election Day.
This phenomenon seems perplexing at first glance but analysis of political campaigning indicates why such campaigns are used.
Politicians are like firms offering a product; the platform they wish to support once elected. Potential voters are consumers who will vote for (or purchase) the candidate whose platform most meets the consumers’ preferences. A firm can only be successful if elected, meaning they receive more votes than any other candidate. Thus, the candidate’s incentive is to campaign in the way most likely to win him more votes and his opponent(s) less. Politicians thus allocate their time, arguments, and funding toward a strategy that they believe will allow them to receive the most votes.
This means that despite what they say, most voters do not demand careful articulation of complete arguments that explain the mechanisms through which politicians’ stances will improve society. They apparently prefer the candidate who can most loudly and proudly pound his ideas into voters head while making his opponent’s claim seem crazier than a late 80s Kiss concert.
Despite the potential criticism accompanying negative campaign ads, politicians continue to use such campaigns because they believe the person who best presents morally based claims and whoever best attacks his opponent will win.
The current political tradition of supplying negative moralistic campaigning can be changed only from a change in voter tastes. Voters must indicate a preference for politicians who provide superior arguments rather than claiming to hold simply superior morals. This must manifest prior to Election Day as all races will have a winner and often times both candidates will have implemented similar types of negative campaigning. Voters must make their preferences known perhaps by allocating resources to supporting candidates who they believe provide arguments rather than fallacies. Without this change, politicians have no incentive to change their current practices.