On Negative Advertising

Mark Penn takes to The Politico this week in defense of negative advertising, including the "3 a.m." ad his team at the Clinton campaign produced, writing that "[c]lever negative advertising works." I think that's right, to an extent (though it does surprise me at least a bit to be writing here that I think Penn is correct). But I do think it misses something -- that clever negative advertising can work, not that it always does.

A professor of mine, David Menefee-Libey (who actually helped turn me on to blogs back in the early part of this decade), once analogized negative advertisements to a pitcher throwing over to first base to keep the runner honest. Whenever a pitcher makes such a move, the fans groan a bit, and if the pitcher does it too often, they may start to boo. However, if the pitcher doesn't throw over to first base, a runner may be able to get too great of a lead, even to the point at which he is more able to steal second -- which would draw even louder boos from the crowd. In other words, the move is effective and necessary, but it is one that isn't particularly appreciated by the fans -- and if used too much can actually annoy fans nearly as much as giving up a stolen base.

Similarly, negative ads -- or contrast ads, however you define them -- are necessary in politics. Without putting your opponent on the defensive -- keeping them honest, just as a pitcher does to a runner on first base by throwing over to the first baseman from time to time -- their path to victory becomes easier (just as it's easier for the runner to steal first base). But there's a catch to this rule, one that Penn misses (and one that I think the McCain campaign is missing, too): If you go too negative, it can actually be counterproductive, and be nearly as ineffective as running no negative ads whatsoever.

The McCain campaign has indeed been "clever," as Penn puts it, in their hits on Barack Obama. They have been able to get their meme out to the public -- with the great help of the Beltway's establishment media, who has given the ads at least treble the airtime that the campaign paid for -- and shifted some attention in the race.

But John McCain's strategy isn't wholly effective here. It's not clear, for instance, that Obama's numbers -- whether nationally or in the key swing states -- have actually moved down significantly. What's more, although the ads may have gone to some length in helping coalesce the Republican base -- after all, there's nothing like antagonizing enemy to rally the troops -- there is little evidence that McCain's numbers have moved upwards, either.

It may be too soon to see the real movement; it could be that the damage to Obama is long-term, not short-term. But from the vantage of today, about two weeks into the McCain campaign's fiercely negative onslaught against Obama, it's hard to see any tangible proof that the effort has been working (and no, changing the sentiments of Joe Scarborough or Mark Halperin doesn't count). In fact, during the time that the McCain campaign has been investing a serious amount of its time -- and money -- in trying to belittle Obama and his supporters, McCain has almost entirely shied away from presenting any message about his own vision of the country to the American voter. This opportunity cost cannot be overlooked.

McCain will have time to lay out his agenda moving forward. But at the same time as he has been dealing in banalities, Obama has been responding by linking McCain to George W. Bush -- a hit that has the potential to be (and seemingly is) significantly more effective -- while at the same time laying out his own positive vision for the country. And in the end, merely being clever or grabbing the attention of those inside the Beltway isn't necessarily the way to win an election.

Tags: Mark Penn, Negative advertising, White House 2008 (all tags)

Comments

35 Comments

Re: On Negative Advertising

Of course the point is not to wait to see if McCain scores a real hit before striking Mccain so as to keep him on the defense. I am glad to see Obama putting out negative ads at the state level even as some pretend he doesn't need to do so. I can only hope we will not see Kerry's mistake at the convention- namely more negative branding of the GOP while building the Democrat/Obama brand.

by bruh3 2008-08-12 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

As a citizen borne with a funny name, I must say I find Mark Penn to be as anti-american as the worst neocons.

Negative campaigning is one thing, but racial bigotry and xenophobia, things our country has longed to be free of, was exploited with out the blink of an eye.

All in the name of the Democrats, the party that supposedly rejects bigotry wholesale, while our adversaries seem to relish in it.

No,
I am not exotic.
I am not different.
I don't buy into your America where people with funny names are not in the fast track club to politics.

I am an American, thanks to the love my parent's had for freedom and opportunity they left their country and raised me in America.

So F**K Mark Penn and his DNC robbing wife.

Mark Penn and his wife stole over 6 million from us during the primary, now his wife will steal another million right from our convention, under our noses and in our faces.

There is zero outrage over this on this site, and almost nothing on other sites.

I just don't get it, this whole story has me beleiving that the independents are right, we are just a different color and mascot from the Repubclians.

Am I crazy, I guess I joined this party to repudiate bigotry and oppression, and we give millions of dollars to people who exploit it?

Anyways, if you want to see what the family that thought 6 million from Hillary wasn't enough, a couple mill from the Columbians wasn't enough,  now they have to take more money from our coffers at the convention.

WHY and HOW do scoundrells like Mark Penn and Dick Morris infilirate our ranks?

Oh, I know noone cares on MYDD about Ms Penn's scam she is running but here is the link:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/10 /mark-penns-wife-feeding-a_n_112058.html

Give her props, she knew better than to share his last name.

by DemsLandslide2008 2008-08-12 04:17PM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

I just learned on Countdown (where else does one get news) that McBush attack dog Joe Lieberscum today said that his candidate is a patriot who reaches across the aisle and Obama is not.

It only took 24 hours for Jabba the Penn's "unamerican" strategy (which was rejected by Hillary) to be adopted by McSmear.

The Obama campaign had no immediate response in a situation where one should have already been written, since we all knew it was coming eventually.

by Glaurung 2008-08-12 04:20PM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

" I just learned on Countdown (where else does one get news) "

 - Countdown is not a news program , it is propaganda.

Joe Lieberman did not say what you are claiming he said but I can understand why that would happen since you assume Countdown is news.

I watched the rally in PA and I don't recall him saying Obama wasn't a patriot . However Keith " he is no Edward Murrow "  Olbermann is not someone I would look to for news.

What Liebermann said is basically similar to what Mccain has been saying at all of his campaign stops.

by lori 2008-08-12 04:51PM | 0 recs
Any other fish in your barrel that need shooting?

McCain Campaign Officially Endorses Lieberman's Claim That Obama Hasn't "Put Country First"

...John McCain, who has always put his country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate that has not.

by Glaurung 2008-08-12 05:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Any other fish in your barrel that need shooti

How exactly does that support what your claim .

You are yet to point out to me where Liebermann said Obama wasn't patriotic as you claimed.

The link you have there doesn't address that and partisans at TPM are not substitutes for accurate information .

Like I said I watched the rally and Liebermann did not say anything about Obama being unpatroitic and you can't provide any source for that claim other than the interpretation or misinterpretation of partisans .

What he said had to do with " putting the country first "  which Mccain has being saying in all his rallies ,( now  as a partisan you may want to interpret it as him accussing Obama  of being unpatriotic thats your prerogative ) however you lose credibility when you make claims you can't back up , because Lieberman never said what you are accusing him of saying.

Mccain has based his campaign on the notion that he puts his country first and he makes that claim at all his rallies , Lieberman basically echoed the same sentiment.

by lori 2008-08-12 05:36PM | 0 recs
How exactly does that support what your claim?

Proving yet again.....you have to be a moron to vote Republican.

I'm not going to try to cram myself any further into the tiny little bare room that you call your mind.

by Glaurung 2008-08-12 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: How exactly does that support what your claim?

Your paranoia doesn't exactly equate to reality.

by lori 2008-08-12 05:55PM | 0 recs
Are you kidding?

Arguing that only one candidate puts country first is pretty clearly an attack on the others patriotism.  Please, explain to me precisely what else that could mean.  

After al, if you're not puting your country first, what is your priority?  

by HSTruman 2008-08-12 05:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Are you kidding?

you don't want to argue with this one... yes she is really that bad.  
When a disgusting human being claims his candidate puts country first, there will always be people who will defend it.

That's life

by hocuspocus 2008-08-12 06:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Any other fish in your barrel that need shooti

When you say only one out of two candidates "puts country first," what precisely can that imply other than the other isn't patriotic?  Partisanship has nothing to do with this.  That's the only reasonable interpretation.  

If I'm wrong, explain what else it could mean.  I'm all ears.  

by HSTruman 2008-08-12 07:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Any other fish in your barrel that need shooti

" Partisanship has nothing to do with this. "

- Actually it does , thats the irony of it all.

I know you are responding to what I have stated in a different context , but this is exactly what Mccain has been emphasizing at all of his townhalls and that was exactly how I interpreted when I watched it live as Libermann was saying it .

It might be because I have seen a lot of Mccain rallies both pre and post nomination and he has been saying  the same thing all along and he says it usually in terms of character and bi-partisanship. As soon as he says I have put my country first he immediately points out where he bucked his party campaign reform , immigration etc.

Now I am not saying others cannot make the leap that he was calling Obama unpatriotic but it is important to note that wasn't what Liebermann said and it is just an inference  which  was what I pointed out .

Keith Olbermann is an extreme partisan and he has a habit of interpreting things whatever way he wants even if it exists outside of reality . Clinton can attest to that from seeing the graying of Obama's face in the 3am ad , to seeing non existent phallex symbols in the celebrity ad etc

Doesn't make him less paranoid or less of a partisan.

by lori 2008-08-12 08:00PM | 0 recs
Hmmm

I asked what other inference is possible from what Lieberman said.  You didn't answer the question.  I suspect that's because the explicit comparison that Lieberman made isn't susceptible to any other interpretation.  Why are you unwilling to just admit that?  

I don't watch Olberman and could care less about him.  I'm interested in McCain and now Lieberman's insinuation that Obama, and other Democrats, aren't "putting their country first" because they disagree with republicans on the war.  Just one part, I would add, of McCain's efforts to label Obama as unamerican.  Just like Penn's memo instructed.  Unlike Hillary, McCain isn't honorable enough to disregard such advice.  He'll truly do anything to win.  

by HSTruman 2008-08-12 08:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Hmmm

I have responded to it ,

I said when I heard it the inference I made had to do with character and bi partisanship and not patriotism or lack thereof maybe because  I believe politicians do make decisions that are political in nature and not necessarily for the good of the country at one time or the other in their careers.....

Doesn't necessarily make them unpatriotic , just a lack of character .

by lori 2008-08-12 08:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Hmmm

Well, I disagree, but fine.  The more worrisome part of this back and forth is that you seem to agree that John "I left my first wife while she was recuperating from a serious accident after I cheated on her repeatedly" McCain has superior "character."  Because Joe "hollier than though, even though I'm also divorced" LIeberman says so.  

I know you're more hawkish than me on foreign policy, but do you really condone the kind of campaign McCain is running?  It's about nothing other than smearing his opponents character.  

by HSTruman 2008-08-12 08:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Hmmm

"  The choice, Lieberman told a cheering, partisan crowd in this GOP stronghold, is "between one candidate, John McCain, who's had experience and been tested in war and tried in peace, and another candidate who has not. Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not. "

- That was the quote , its hard for me to conclude he was saying Obama was unpatriotic , I watched the rally and when Lierberman said it , I thought it was all about bi partisanship.

But we can agree to disagree.

Regarding Mccain , I do believe it takes a man of great character to endure what he went through in Vietnam and i liked what he did what the surge

by lori 2008-08-12 09:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Hmmm

Again, if Obama doesn't "put country first" it begs the question what DOES he put first.  I'd love to know the answer to that question.  

Visa vie McCain, the guy is a war hero, no question.  He was also completely wrong regarding how Iraq would go from the start (he said, literally, that we would be greeted as liberators as well), how we would pay for it (again, he backed the administration's view that Iraq's oil would pay for the war), and only started criticizing strategy after things had gone off the rails.  The surge has been a tactical success, but I'm far more concerned with his assertion that knowing what he knows now, he would still advocate invading Iraq in the first place.  

Think about that last one for a second.  He's not saying since we're there, we have to make the best for it.  He's saying even knowing that there were no WMD, and how weak Saddam was, and how much blod and treasure we would lose, that he would still back the invasion.  If you agree with that logic and judgment then god bless you.  But for me, thinking about the foreign policy challenges on the horizon, that is absolutely bat shit crazy.  

by HSTruman 2008-08-13 05:40AM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

"One of the McCain campaign's new themes, that Senator John McCain has always put his country first, has been seen by some analysts as a subtle suggestion that his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, has not.

But as he introduced Mr. McCain at a campaign event here on Tuesday, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut made the attack a lot more explicit, calling the election a choice 'between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.'"

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/ 08/12/lieberman-obama-has-not-always-put -country-first/

Joe Lieberman is disgrace.  

by YuedoTiko 2008-08-12 05:12PM | 0 recs
Uh, yeah. He did.

Classic straw man evasiveness, lori. No, Lieberman never uttered the words that Obama wasn't a patriot.

What Holy Joe DID say - through comparison - was that Obama would NOT put America first. Read the quote again and tell me why I'm wrong. My guess is you will come up with another straw man rather than answer honestly and directly.

by Spiffarino 2008-08-12 05:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Uh, yeah. He did.

You can certainly make whatever inference you want to make out of it , and partisans on both sides would always do that , but it is inaccurate to claim he said Obama was unpatriotic when he didn't .

I believe all politicians make political decisions at one point or the other in their political career ( even Mccain ) in which they made political calculations and didn't put their country first , it happens all the time , doesn't necessarily make them unpatriotic.

The iraq debate is an example some would accusse Clinton of making a political decision when she cast her war vote especially on the left and didn't put country first , I don't know if those folks would accusse her of being unpatriotic .

I think when Clinton /Obama voted against the supplemental funding  , I personally believed it was a political decision and they both were reacting due to the primaries going on and they didn't put their country first , at the same time it doesn't make them unpatriotic , it just means the are lacking in character in some way and that is basically the tenor of what Mccain has been portraying in a lot of his rallies.

My interpretation of the whole I put my country first whenever Mccain uses it seems to me to be a character appeal and a I buck my party thing , Mccain goes on and mentions wherever he had differed with his party when he says that.

Now others can draw other inferences which is their right but I don't think it is appropriate to accuse someone of saying something when all that is been done is making an inference.  

I believe politicians and political parties do make decisions based on ideology or what is politically viable and not what is right for the country . This doesn't mean they are unpatriotic , its just a character issue to me.

by lori 2008-08-12 05:50PM | 0 recs
It is McCain with the character issue here --

NOT Obama.

by YuedoTiko 2008-08-12 07:30PM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

What I don't think many people realize is that McCain has been essentially advertising online, or sending web ads to media outlet as a way of getting free converage, but don't believe the hype that Obama is not doing his own advertising.  While McCain is advertising on cable news shows, Obama's campaign has been targeting states and particular cities at the state and local level.  They have been systematically releasing pro-obama ads taylor-made to specific issues that pertain the states that they are targeting.  Unlike McCain, the Obama campaign has not really been releasing it's "negative" ads to the national press.  The negative ads are targeted to specific issue for specific state, i.e. DHL/McCain/RickDavis/8000jobs lost, or Wiscosin/Harley/anti-trade.  So while McCain's national numbers may be holding steady, if you look underneath at the state polls, Obama is doing better than you would expect a Democrat to do in some really Red States (I think 1 of the latest polls have Obama +5 in ALASKA).

Basically, remember what the Obama campaign did during the primaries, unlike Clinton, Obama learned the lessons of 2000/2004, you don't win the presidency by the popular vote, you win by electoral college, or state by state. I read an article somewhere that even a small lead in the national head to head, can translate into a landslide in the electoral college.

by lamh3176 2008-08-12 04:25PM | 0 recs
We need to start vetting these people

As activists I think we need to start watching what we allow to call themselves Democratic strategists.

They need to be regulated!

Why?, no Im not calling for facism,  hear me out....

These people go on TV all the time before during and after a campaign and get revered as experts, and spinsters.
What happens is you get someone like Penn and Wolfson who care about Dollar signs, not our country or constitution.
Often this same kind of Democratic advisor, magically becomes a "Columbian Labor Party" strategist, then next year they are a lobyist for some plastics consortium.

Second, people like me and you donate money to these campaigns.
How many of us knew that our 10% of money donated to Clinton would end up in Penn's pocket.

Third, once in office advisors like these will always advise their client to captiulate and do whatever it takes so you win and they get another notch on their belt and higher rates for the next election.

Fourth, what makes me the most mad is we have some brilliant analysts who DO ALL THE SAME WORK for free(blogs) for the radio (Rachel Maddow, Cenk Uyger).   People like us love our party, and we love our country.

We are not doing this to get paid.

As a Democrat I have kept my head high, noting on being on the right side of history.
Well bad actors like Penn and Wolfson and Dick Morris will continue to dilute that.

by DemsLandslide2008 2008-08-12 04:34PM | 0 recs
Re: We need to start vetting these people

Regulated by who?

Howard -Hillary should drop out before her voters get to vote- Dean?

Nanci -Hillary voters in Florida shouldn't count even for super delegates consideration- Pelosi?

Big Brother?

Will blatant racists like Jessy "Nuts and N word" Jackson or Jessy "Katrina Tears" Jackson Jr be banned too?

Or only the Clinton operatives?

Have you read 1984?  Are you reading it right now?

by dtaylor2 2008-08-12 04:51PM | 0 recs
I see your dilemma.

If Democrats kicked the Republicans out of their party, people like you wouldn't be able to enjoy our company the way you do now.

by Glaurung 2008-08-12 05:17PM | 0 recs
Re: I see your dilemma.

Lets make a first step and not let them vote in our primary.

Oh noooes that would mean Obama lost wouldn't it????

Hillary got something like 1,000,000 more democratic party member votes than Obama.

I call your bluff.

Lets get rid of the GOP faction supporting Obama and admit that we didn't elect the democrat that the majority of the party voted for.

Closed primaries now.

Closed primaries forever.

Why does a Republican in Alaska have 10 times more say in determining the Democratic party primary winner than a democrat in California????

Again I call your bluff.

Lets fix it because thats how Obama is where he is.

by dtaylor2 2008-08-13 10:44AM | 0 recs
I can taste your bile.

by Glaurung 2008-08-13 05:45PM | 0 recs
Re: We need to start vetting these people

If you are not a team player you don't belong to that team, feel free to go independent.

by Fistjab 2008-08-12 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: We need to start vetting these people

If I was an independent Obama would have been my choice.

I am a democrat and the DNC leaders stole our voice this election.

Don't think you can steal democracy and have it go smoothly.

by dtaylor2 2008-08-13 10:41AM | 0 recs
Re: We need to start vetting these people

1) Dean never said when Clinton should drop out.

2) Pelosi's interpretation of the florida debacle is consistent with the rules and bylaws of the DNC.

Get a friggin' life.

by lojasmo 2008-08-13 04:20AM | 0 recs
Re: We need to start vetting these people

Dean first talked about having it settled in March or April.

Pelosi made it clear that her position as Speaker and favor giver was behind the position that Florida should get NO influence in the outcome which is counter to the bylaws of the DNC.

Superdelegates are independent for exactly this type of election where the Deans and Pelosis of the world are trying to exert undue influence to counter the will of the voters.

by dtaylor2 2008-08-13 10:40AM | 0 recs
Re: We need to start vetting these people

Dean NEVER said "clinton should drop out"

Your lies are showing.

by lojasmo 2008-08-13 05:00PM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

I'm not sure why the 3am ad is used as an example of a negative ad.  If that's a negative ad, everything is.

by Steve M 2008-08-12 06:56PM | 0 recs
Re: On Negative Advertising

I agree with you on that one.

Thats not a negative ad .

That is actually the best ad this election cycle in my opinion , thats one I have  to give to Penn even though he is a total disaster.

by lori 2008-08-12 07:47PM | 0 recs
Penn calls it a negative ad

by YuedoTiko 2008-08-12 08:09PM | 0 recs

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