Here’s Annabel Crabb reporting on negative campaigning.
Fear Is The Winner
Of the 30 TV ads commissioned and aired by the Coalition, 29 attack Labor, and only 6 offer any positive reason to vote Liberal (thanks to Gruen Nation’s hardworking research bunnies Xtreme Info, for their analysis).
Of the 24 ads aired nationally by Labor, 19 are negative assaults on the Opposition, and just 10 give the viewer any positive encouragement to stick with the Government.
If you read it quickly it seems like they’re both at it doesn’t it? Well they are both at it. Negative ads work better than any other ads. But you don’t really need to understand David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage to think that what matters in assessing the issue is the comparative extent of negativity on either side (if one thinks it’s an important issue).
So let’s imagine that Annabel wanted to help us understand who was more negative. She might mention the slogans – one lot of which are at least notionally positive even if they are obviously (axiomatically?) intended to conjure up a contrast with their opponents. One lot are “moving forward” and “a strong economy, schools and education” or whatever it is. The others is Stop the waste, stop Labor’s new taxes, stop the boats etc. Call me old fashioned, but the latter slogan is negative. It’s certainly more negative than the former ones.
Then there are the ratio of positive ads to negative ones as reported by Crabb above. The ratio of positive to all ads for the Coalition is 3%, and for Labor is nearly ten times that at 26%. The ratio of ads with ‘some positives’ to all ads is 20% for the coalition and over twice that at 42%. That suggests a bit of a difference to me.
But what did we have on the ABC news last night? Joe Hockey saying how negative Julia was. No criticism of him for spinning it that way. Good on him. And this isn’t an accusation of general ABC bias, or even of particular bias. It’s the more or less random result of media values and of a smart coalition strategy to try to ensure it’s opponent, and not itself was more spinned against than spinning. And I have this fond, and old fashioned hope that the ABC News might (one day . . . ) amount to something more considered than the random outcome of a set of decisions based on nothing more than entertainment (even if I’ll concede that it also has to be as compelling viewing as the producers can make it).
But why would the ABC run that as a story – and only that – if they thought people might want to deliberate on negativity in the campaign? But we all know the answer don’t we? The news – including, deplorably, the ABC news, is no more nor less than a bunch of the most compelling ‘grabs’ the producers can throw together in a hurry on issues deemed to be ‘issues of the day’. Issues of the day are determined by what . . . ? Well the default is the two parties’ planned ‘messages’ for the day.
Unless there’s an embarrassment. You know, something important like someone running through a shopping centre in speedos (the thrill here is that it’s not clear whose campaign is embarrassed – oh the suspense!), the leak of one person’s version of what someone said behind closed doors. Or Mark Latham barging through a media barrier to do a bit of promotion for his segment on 60 minutes. Or perhaps something even more telegenic, and thus important . . . like John Howard stumbling on his way off the speaker’s platform (this proves that he is old, which until now has been a ‘sleeper’. “So Michelle, how do you think this will play in the electorate”, “Fran, Howard is a seasoned campaigner, so he’ll be wanting to just walk off podiums for the duration of the campaign from now on. One thing’s for sure though. . . . he can’t afford any further stumbles” “Thanks Michelle, we’ll have to leave it there”. “Thanks Fran”.).
Oops: the table looks lovely in WordPress’s rich text editor. Not so much in html. Sorry about that, but I think you can work out what it says. (I’ve now removed it and just written the important numbers into the relevant sentence.