Why does negative campaigning work so well?
Here’s a quick summary of the rhetoric we hear from the partisans of Political Party ABC:
· The people in Party XYZ are fools.
· The people in Party XYZ are inept for governance.
· The people in Party XYZ are corrupt.
· The people in Party XYZ are secretive.
· The people in Party XYZ are uncompassionate.
· When Party ABC gains power, it has many mistakes to fix.
And, of course, this is a two-way street. Party XYZ is saying the same thing about Party ABC. It seems this negative rhetoric is a necessary part of winning of elections. Politicians and political parties who do not denigrate their opponents are probably not all that electable.
Let’s analyze the partisans: the hard working and ambitious party members vying for status, influence, and power in the party; their supporters who delight in shouting over differing viewpoints and pasting vile and simplistic memes on the internet; and those not-so-neutral personalities in the field of journalism. All these partisans seriously believe they are holding the truth. If so, then don’t they have a moral imperative to work towards to shutting down the opposing party, who are obviously spreading falsehoods?
With such moral imperative, should Party ABC ever seize some degree of power, should it not:
· shut down all media who speak unfairly of the ABC?
· put all XYZ party members on a list of possible subversives for surveillance and limiting their opportunities?
· put the treasonous XYZ leaders in jail, even to the point suspending their legal rights?
· abolish XYZ, thus turning our nation into a one-party state?
· suspend the rights of the people who voted for XYZ for these voters are obviously incapable of voting wisely?
If ABC is indeed holding all the truth, then the one-party state is an obvious goal for ABC, right?
Most readers recognize that western democracy has various checks-and-balances to minimize the likelihood of a one-party state. Even the partisans themselves, outwardly at least, would not attest at that condition. Inwardly and subtly, I think, the partisans enjoy the competition too much to want a one-party state. And inwardly again, I think many citizens enjoy the drama!
So why do partisans engage in rhetoric that has a one-party state for a logical conclusion?
Because political parties win elections with negative rhetoric about the other party, that’s why! Here is how it works. The positive rhetoric of Party ABC will not get any more votes; the voters who like ABC will still vote for ABC regardless of how much positive rhetoric ABC spews. Nor will the rhetoric get any votes from the cynical, apathetic non-voters as the rhetoric only serves to remind this demographic that parties are not worth the effort to vote.
But the demographic the negative rhetoric does influence is the “soft” support of XYZ. This group believes in its civic duty to vote and have made a decision for XYZ, often rationalizing their vote as the lesser of two evils. However, that psychological drive to make the trip to voting booth and cast a vote towards XYZ is not that strong. If enough rhetoric against XYZ is implanted in their minds, this group is less likely to make the effort to vote. When this happens, Party ABC’s rhetoric has served its purpose by having fewer votes cast for XYZ.
So here’s a democratic paradox. Western democracy requires multiple parties, high voter turnout, and the truth to find the right decisions, right? Yet the rhetoric of political partisans suggests one or more parties are lying, some voters are convinced not to vote their preference, and a one-party state is a logical outcome.
Are these not signs something is wrong with western democracy?