Search This Blog


Negative campaigns likely to help GOP, harm Democrats

There’s a right way and a wrong way to perform negative advertising, and for this round of elections in Louisiana it looks as if the Republicans got it right and the Democrats got it wrong.

Republicans have targeted Democrat Secretary of State candidate Francis Heitmeier in what, practically speaking, will be a three-man contest between him and Republicans state Sen. Jay Dardenne and businessman Mike Francis. This follows the prime logic of negative advertising: because it dislodges supporters of the target, you should do it only when you’re reasonably sure another dynamic will shift those votes to benefit your candidate.

That is reasonably clear in this case, since discouraged presumed Heitmeier voters either would not vote at all or would not vote for any of the minor candidates. Still, it’s not that likely to work, for two reasons. First, despite what some have speculated, Heitmeier’s chances of making the general election runoff are very high. Even if you could argue that 100,000 more black than white voters have fled New Orleans after the hurricane disasters of 2005, the state’s black proportion of the electorate still comprises 25 percent so with blacks only slightly less likely to turn out than whites and almost all blacks voting for Heitmeier, it wouldn’t take many white liberals’ votes to get him there, making this effort a longshot.

Also, if the GOP goal is to get both of its candidates into the runoff, Heitmeier defectors must disappear from the voting booth or be attracted to one or both GOP candidates in a way that accomplishes this goal. For example, if one candidate leads Heitmeier, the defectors would have to vote for the trailing candidate; there’s no way the GOP can guarantee that these defectors will vote for the trailing candidate. All in all, however, it’s worth a flier – nothing ventured, nothing gained.

By contrast, state Democrat efforts to influence the Shreveport mayor’s race promise no good payoff and might even damage its cause. These ads attack frontrunner former city attorney and Republican Jerry Jones. Behind him tags along Democrats state Rep. Cedric Glover and city spokeswoman Liz Swaine. The theory would be that sloughing off potential Jones voters might push him behind both Glover and Swaine.

But that tactic has almost no chance of success. Best that can be told, Jones has a double-digit lead on these Democrats so that would be a lot of ground to make up. This might be more realistic if some of these voters found their ways into the Democrats’ columns but few would go for Swaine and practically none to Glover (although the disproportion in favor of Swaine is enough for Democrats supporting Glover to complain of the tactic, cloaking their political motive in rhetoric along the lines of the ad campaign makes Democrats look “bad”).

Further, the detached voters could wander their way into the arms of former city economic developer Arlena Acree, a Republican. If for some reason Jones lost a significant chunk of support, it probably would head her way rather than Swaine’s and both she, with her new support, and Jones, whose lead is big enough to handle some defectors, could ace out any Democrat being in the runoff.

While the Republicans’ launching their negative campaign on Heitmeier may not work, it could and won’t have any negative consequences. However, the Democrats’ strike against Jones almost certainly represents a total waste of resources, and may even backfire on the party.

No comments: