Melissa’s Musings: Negative campaigning hurts turnout

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Suzanne Terrell is a “rubber stamp” for the Republican party.

Mary Landrieu is “too liberal for Louisiana.”

Every time the television is switched on, attack ads aimed at Senatorial candidates Terrell and Landrieu blast voting records and scream in-office scandals. It is enough to make even the most hardened observer cringe. It has many shouting, “I am washing my hands clean of this election!”

But most voters’ threats are empty. Voters do not disregard high-profile races – especially those utilizing a technique now referred to by candidates and voters alike as mudslinging.

In fact, some studies have shown that voters – yes, even the most frustrated among us – are more likely to become involved in close campaigns between mudslinging contenders.

A report released by the Center for Voting and Democracy in November showed Louisiana with one of the highest voter turnout increases in the nation. The cause, the report stated, was high profile races between candidates investing tremendous amounts of time and money in state campaigns – races like the one between incumbent Mary Landrieu and challenger Suzanne Terrell.

The concept is good, at least in part. Close races mean more stops on the campaign trail, more debates where candidates are forced to take a stand on political issues. Candidates implore their constituents to vote on election day. Voters feel, for once, like one vote does really matter.

Negative campaigning serves its intended purpose. Negative advertisements get voters involved, forcing them to examine their beliefs, to feel cheated and outraged by the system. These ads, while creating frustration and tension, get the numbers up at the polls, something that quieter, more honest campaigns fail to do.

But high-profile campaigns can also yield negative attitudes among voters. Expensive campaign ads declaring candidates to be dishonest, immoral or unethical fan the flames of suspicion among voters. Does anyone voting in 2002 believe that any of our politicians are honest and upright?

Yes, negative campaigns get people to the polls and that is important. I wish that all eligible residents would go vote this weekend, regardless of what that vote might be – or how they were influenced by advertisements. But voters should not have to feel that to vote means choosing the lesser of two evils. Voters should be able to have faith in the leaders that they elect.

Maybe negative campaigning works now, but it will not always produce the same effects. At some point, the audience is bound to tire of all the allegations and all the clever ways parties twist the truth in ads.

It is time to try something new to get more people at the polls. How about more education, more debates, more attention to platforms?

Why don’t we find easier, more accurate ways of casting votes? Can’t we make it easier for voters to get to the polls?

MELISSA PEACOCK is a staff reporter for L’Observateur. She may be reached at (985) 652-9545.