Well, it started day one. The Harper Conservatives could hardly wait to trot out some out of context quotes and video to attack the newly crowned leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Going shirtless to garner donations at a charity fundraiser becomes a striptease for money. An excerpt from an interview describing the Trudeau family philosophy that citizens of Quebec do not need special protections becomes a Quebecers are just better message. Why?
Attack ads are characterized by their tendancy to play fast and loose with the truth. Typically they use out of context data and creative editing to characterize the target in a manner that would not be so if context were provided. In short, they attempt to manipulate us.
Attack ads do not work for everyone or in every case but they do work often enough to be tried on a regular basis. They are particularly effective for right wing groups and here's how.
The use of these ads has the potential to accomplish a couple of things the first and most obvious being to paint the target in a bad light. The question is for whom? It may cause some folks who are on the support bubble or who sadly rely on political ads for their information to turn away from the target and maybe even repeat the negative message like gossips in a school yard. Fortunately they are actually the minority. For harder core right wingers it provides more fodder and talking points and solidifies their support. These folks are often called the base.
Looking at this, the effect seems to be minimal until we look at the effect on the more politically left leaning folks. This demographic tends to be younger and more idealistic. The effect on them can vary from outrage to disgust. It is unlikely it will win many over to the right. The ads are not trying to do that. The ads are trying to push them out of the equation all together.
Young idealists in particular can become bitter about the whole process and potentially disengage. This is the great hope of the right. Just try to have these folks so fed up that they just turn their backs on it all. It is a fantastic example of 'when good folks do nothing'.
In 2007-2008 in the US, then candidate Obama countered negative ads by professing a culture of Hope and Change. This drew in the idealists. The result was a higher participation rate by the young and others previously tagged as apathetic voters.
So how do we get rid of negative attack ads? People have to show that these tactics no longer accomplish their objective. Rather then becoming frustrated and turning away from the process, it should galvanize people in support of the victim of this kind of bullying tactic and campaign of misinformation.
If you are offended by this type of slam against your intelligence that these ads represent then buck up, get involved, support the target and point out, whenever you can, that the emperor has no clothes.
Stick to your ideals and make a difference. You can't do the from the sidelines.