Attack Ads

Radical. Zany. Serial hypocrisy. With the GOP race in full swing, attack ads are back on the rise.

In political campaigns, attack ads serve as messages that attack another candidate or a political party. Often forming part of negative or ‘smear’ campaigning, large or well-financed campaigns tend to have better luck in creating and distributing attack ads.

Though most high school students cannot vote and do not follow politics, some stay very informed and involved. Many know sophomore Mikey Erb as opinionated and not afraid to share his views with others.
Erb calls attack ads “part of the political process. How candidates react to them shows how they will hold up in the election.”

Usually, attack ads criticize an opponent’s political platform or personal life by pointing out its faults. The ads often make use of innuendo. These ads have the capability of being vicious, due to their being largely unregulated.

Sophomore Hazen Dean said, “It is unfair to bring up people’s pasts and attack others, when the candidates attacking don’t have the best histories themselves. Attack ads show how hypocritical candidates can be.”

The mass media provides opportunities to publicize attack ads. Recently, television and internet ads portray negative aspects of an opponent in a party, in attempt to win voters in early primary states.

Junior Carmi Thompson said, “Generally, it is better for attack ads not to be used. A fair fight is better than playing dirty.”

Political pundits have debated the effectiveness of attack ads for years. It is a popular opinion among many political analysts that attack ads have the potential to sway voters.

“My opinion is mainly swayed by the positions candidates hold on certain issues,” Erb said.
In contrast, Thompson said, “Attacking opponents lowers my opinion of the candidate attacking, especially if they attack someone I support.”

Some believe that attack ads’ usefulness in shaping public opinion results from an appeal to emotion, provided in many ads. Often shown in black and white and utilizing an announcer’s voice, attack ads tend to become ultra-dramatic.
Some attack ads work, but others don’t. Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster and communications strategist said, “Any time you have that fake drama, voters turn off.”

Attack ads may even fail in their intended purpose and backfire against its users. If seen as going too far or being too personal, voters may turn against the party providing the ad.

Sophomore Kylie Campbell feels that attack ads say more about the attacker. “It shows that their campaign alone is not strong enough,” Campbell said.

Many other students share the feeling that attack ads cause them to think less highly of the attacker.

Senior Caitlin Cook said the use of attack ads “shows that the candidates don’t have strong enough views of their own to support their campaign, and have to resort to back-stabbing other candidates.”

In the 1960s, the use of televised attack ads gained popularity in the U.S. Now, other democratic countries, including Canada, utilize them.

During the 1964 presidential election, Lyndon Johnson used one of the earliest and most famous television attack ads. Many considered ‘Daisy Girl’ to be shocking and disturbing. It succeeded in convincing many that Goldwater, Johnson’s opponent, could create a nuclear conflict with his approach to fighting the Cold War.


Recent examples of attack ads include “the GOP depicting Obama and Pelosi as zombies,” said Cook. Although this ad did not change her view of either political party, she said it “showed how low people will go to try and defeat the other party.”

‘Super PACs’ fund most attack ads; they function separately from campaigns and can accept unlimited donations to help in supporting of attacking candidates. Before November 2012, political experts expect for more than $5 million to be spent on attack ads.

“It is important that the nation pays attention to political races now,” Erb said. “Controversial and timeless questions are being raised.”