Lyndon B. Johnson

Voters dislike negative campaigning…or do they?

The video above was the first attack ad…simple yet effective. It started the war of negative advertising.

Fifty years ago—on the night of Monday, Sept. 7, 1964—an innocent little girl plucking flower petals in a sun-splashed field helped usher in a revolution in American political advertising. The 60-second television spot that featured her disjointed counting exploded, literally and figuratively, all notions of what it meant to effectively persuade voters with paid political advertising.

The little girl counted as she plucked flower petals. Unseen birds chirped happily. As her counting ended, viewers suddenly heard a mission control announcer begin a countdown. As he neared zero, the girl’s image froze as the camera zoomed into her right eye until her pupil filled the screen and was replaced by a nuclear blast and mushroom cloud. As the apocalyptic scene unfolded, President Lyndon Johnson’s reedy drawl entered the spot, ending with the admonition, “we must either love each other or we must die.”

The so-called “Daisy Girl” spot created by Johnson’s New York advertising firm aired only once as a paid commercial during the 1964 presidential campaign. An estimated 50 million voters saw it during NBC’s “Monday Night at the Movies”—the film was “David and Bathsheba.” Another 50 million or more saw it again, or for the first time, later that week when the three television networks aired the unique, powerful spot in their newscasts.

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Irony alert

It can only be described as irony when Pat Robertson describes the GOP candidates as too extreme:

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when one of the most radical, hate-spewing figures in America calls you “extreme.” That’s how televangelist Pat Robertson described the field of GOP candidates, Right Wing Watch reports. On his show The 700 Club, Robertson warned that the GOP base is pushing their party’s presidential nominees to take such extreme positions that they will be unelectable. “I believe it was Lyndon Johnson that said, ‘Don’t these people realize if they push me over to an extreme position I’ll lose the election?’” he said. “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the frontrunners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election…They’ve got to stop this! It’s just so counterproductive!”

Great Campaign Ads

Since we are looking at a shortened election campaign it is timely to review great campaign ads over the years.

Today is the famous “Daisy” ad.

From the comments on the video: Was a brilliant ad using implication by imagery. The implication, of course, was that Goldwater was an extreme militarist who bring nuclear Armageddon upon the world, and Johnson the only sane choice; all without mentioning Goldwater’s name. Was it fair ? No, but it was brilliant.

Do negative ads work?

Not according to John Sides at FiveThirtyEight:

4. Negative ads work, except when they don’t. It is virtually a truism that negative advertisements make the candidate being attacked look bad, and the candidate doing the attacking look good. In 2008, Mark Penn hewed close to this conventional wisdom, asserting that despite research showing that voters dislike negativity, “clever” negative ads work. He wrote, “When reality and research differ, it is the research that is wrong.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t really know the reality. The most comprehensive meta-analysis of research into negative advertising found no conclusive evidence that they work:

All told, the research literature does not bear out the idea that negative campaigning is an effective means of winning votes, even though it tends to be more memorable and stimulate knowledge about the campaign.

Take the “daisy ad.” Perhaps the most infamous negative presidential ad of all time didn’t appear to move either Lyndon B. Johnson’s or Barry Goldwater’s poll numbers. And don’t be fooled by accounts suggesting that a negative ad had some subtle effect on a race — “changed the narrative” or another similarly squishy phrase. Votes, not narratives, are what wins elections.

It does make one wonder why Labour persists in trying to pop John key’s balloon with negative attack stuff.