Negative Campaign Continues To Backfire

As it was explained to me once, the trick to mud slinging is making sure more mud sticks to your opponent than it does to you.

Another often used adage in politics is that everyone says they don’t like negative campaigns, but they work.  If they didn’t work, no one would use them.

The thing about negative campaigning is that people really don’t like negative campaigns.  For this reason, the moment you decide to go that route, your favorability is going to start dropping.  The reason why negative campaigns still win is because when you do it right, the target’s favorability goes down even faster.

John McCain ain’t doin’ it right.

AP/Yahoo has been doing an interesting series of polls wherein they have been polling the same sample repeatedly as opposed to constantly mixing up the sample.  Now, I’m not a pollster, so I can’t be exactly sure, but I imagine this isn’t a wise way to get the overall snapshot of America doing this.

On the other hand, this is an excellent way to track trends that are normally buried in the cross tabs of a poll.  Favorables and unfavorables, that kind of thing.

Thus far, what the polls have discovered is that since September when McCain initiated his disproporionately negative campaign, his favorables have plummeted while Obama’s traits have either been on the rise or held steady.

In other words, McCain’s throwing all the mud, none of it is sticking to Obama, and a lot of it is backsplattering onto McCain.

There are, I believe, two mechanics at work here.  First, McCain isn’t doing it right.  As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, McCain’s major error is that he is doing the attacking himself.  He’s leaving fingerprints which is the one thing you really don’t want to do when you launch a negative campaign.  This explains the drop in his favorables, people know it’s him doing all the smearing and they don’t like it.

The other mechanic, and the reason why Obama’s negatives are not dropping, is that the political climate right now is such that current events actually do over ride smear campaigns.  People say they don’t like negativity, but when there’s not much else going on, negativity can fill the void that boring old substantive issues could leave in the public’s interest.

That’s not the case this time around.  The economy is a looming concern for most voters right now, and so all this silly season kind of stuff just doesn’t matter as much as domestic issues do.

But it looks like McCain and Palin are just going to keep on keeping on.  Oh well.

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