Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Message Framing part 3: Political Attack Ads

It seems that every election cycle a series of reports and editorials pieces surface, decrying the “poisoned nature of contemporary political discourse,” usually substantiated by anecdotal references to snippets taken from negative ads being run in particular races and campaigns. Of course, accompanying these criticisms of negative ads is the expression of sentiment calling for greater civility in our political discourse, while pundits and commentators simultaneously recollect the good old days when campaigns were just about the “issues.” Such expressions of both disgust and nostalgic longing for a pristine past are hardly rooted in a historically accurate understanding of American political campaigns. Since the founding of our republic, political campaigns have often been characterized by negativity and generous portions of mud-slinging. For instance, in the 1800 presidential campaign between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, one newspaper claimed that if Jefferson was elected president that murder, rape, and adultery would be openly practiced, while in the campaign of 1828, candidate Andrew Jackson was accused of, among other things, being a murderer and a son of a prostitute (Begley, 2008). Negative campaigning did not end there then only to and in the poisoned and polarized atmosphere of party politics in the 1980’s however; Abraham Lincoln, in the election of 1860, was described in such colorful terms as a “thief, ignoramus, buffoon and butcher” (Seiter and Gass, 2010, p.218), while Harry Truman compared Republicans to Hitler in the election of 1948, just after World War II (Knonhollz, 2008). Though it is evident from this handful of examples that so-called “attack ads” are as old as the republic, they are not however perceived to be as American as apple pie, as Underation (2009) explains, “Americans like to imagine their political discourse has a sense of moral excellence about it; in short, we like to imagine we are electing people who are morally sound and who speak to high-minded and large-hearted ideals that we are taught to embrace from our earliest years” (258). That dissonance between American civic virtue and actual political practice is a significant contributing factor to the palpable uneasiness so evident in both the public perception and discussion of political attack ads. Upon further review however, if done appropriately, it might not be the case that attack ads are all that un-American after all, since they are often rich in detail and chalk full of information which can assist the public in exercising their civic obligation to vote.

For some time, scholars have wrestled with developing a definition which is sufficiently clear and expansive. An early definition is offered by Pinkleton (1997) who explains that a negative ad is “any ad that carries discouraging words about an opponent” (p.20). A more nuanced definition is offered by Cheng and Riffe (2008) who claim that, in general, researchers seem to agree that negative political advertising directly assaults its target, citing an opponent’s broken promises, voting record, and public misstatements. In an effort to further clarify the rules of fair-play in the use of attack ads, Lau and Rovner (2009) make a distinction between ads about policy and ads which are essentially about character assassination. On the one hand, negative information about an incumbent’s policies, voting record, or failure to provide for his or her constituents provides suitable material for negative ads. Similarly, for non-incumbents, negative information such as a candidate’s experience or ideological belief that might provide clues to how the candidate may govern once in office is relevant matter to attack. On the other hand, salacious information about a candidate’s behavior in college or the candidate’s past marital problems are not matters of relevance to campaigns or to understanding of a candidates policy positions, nor are they necessarily future indicators of performance if elected. Therefore, such information is not suitable fodder for attack or analysis. A similar way of restating this clarification in more precise terms is found in the distinction, put forward by Seiter and Gass (2010), between argumentativeness and verbal aggression. They are argue that “being assertive or argumentative or being willing to advance one’s own position and refute the position of an opponent, is not the same thing as being hostile or verbally aggressive.” (219) In other words, argumentativeness focuses on policy and relevant character issues, while verbal aggression concerns ad hominem attacking. Based upon the discussion above, a negative ad is defined as an attack upon an opponent’s policy or past voting record or relevant character concerns, along with the implications which these might have for future decisions if elected to office.

Hughes (2003), distinguishes between two primary forms: attack political advertising and comparative political advertising. Attack political advertising involves an aggressive, one-sided assault designed to draw attention to an opponent’s weaknesses in either character or issue positions, while comparative political advertising identifies a competing candidate, draws comparisons, implies inferiority, and attempts to degrade prospective voter perceptions of the targeted candidate. The latter kind of ad can be either direct or implied. In the case of direct comparison ads, they use “a two-sided message to identify the targeted candidate and contrast specific aspects of the candidates’ records, experience or issue positions” while “implied comparative advertising is one-sided and does not mention the targeted candidate specifically” (164). Another form, the indirect comparative ad is employed in campaigns from time to time, but is rarely used effectively on account of it being overly subtle to serve the purpose of a negative ad.

A particularly interesting line of investigation into attack ads pertains to an examination of the situations in which they are utilized. In this connection a few separate studies are worthy of some consideration. First, Damore (2002), surveyed TV ads run by major party presidential candidates competing in general elections from 1976 to 1996 and came up with the following generalizations about the use of negative ads: negative campaign tactics are a function of candidate poll standings, of the behavior of their opponents at prior points in campaigns, of characteristics of issues in the campaign agenda, and of proximity to election day (679). Second, in a study of U.S. Senate campaigns between 1988 and 2002, Lau and Pomper (2001, 2004) found that negative ads were generally used by candidates who are behind, are in close elections, are challengers, are candidates with relatively few campaign resources, are Republicans, are males, and are candidates whose opponents are attacking them. Third, Airne and Benoit (2005) examined television spots from campaigns in the 2000 election reaching some significantly different results from these previous studies. Prior research had attributed negative ads to poll standing, to challenger status, and to Republican candidates, but Airne and Benoit found that “incumbents attacked at about the same level (35%) as challengers,” and that Democrats and Republicans attack at about the same rate (p.481). Other findings of interest in this study were that winners and losers attacked and acclaimed at about the same rate -- winners: 68%; losers: 66%)—however, winners discussed policy more than losers in their negative ads (64% to 60%), whereas losers focused more on character (40%, 36%) (p. 483). Clearly, this data exposes the fact that negative campaigning is neither a challenger issue or a party issue, rather, it is a widely, if not universally used media tool candidates use to disseminate their concerns to the voting public.

Now, moving on to address the question of undoubtedly the most interest, “do they work?” The answer is, “yes,” depending on who you talk to. For instance, ScienceDaily (2008) reported on a study by Phillips, Urbany, and Reynolds (2008) who conducted a field study of registered voters aged 18-23 using real advertisements from the 2004 presidential election. This study found that 14% of the participants who viewed an ad that attacked their preferred candidate – were influenced by the ad’s content and were moved in the direction of the advertising candidate while viewing positive ads did not lead to significant change in voter attitude. The article went on to note the significance of the study results commenting that, “77 percent of college-educated 18-24 year olds who were registered cast a vote in the 2004 presidential election, compared to 64 percent of registered voters as a whole” (“Young Voters,” 2008). A separate study, conducted by Tinkham, Lariscy, and Avery (2009), concluded that voters in the 60 and above age group are “the group that is most likely to yield behaviorally to the sponsor of a political ad” (117). This is truly a significant find given that “citizens over 60 both register to vote and do vote in higher percentages than any other age group” (105). Without getting into the game of citing study for study, it is notable that although there is disagreement among researchers, there is at the same time persistent belief in the effectiveness of negative ads as Seiter and Gass (2010) explain, “Campaign managers and political consultants are unequivocal in their belief that attack ads are highly effective” (227).

Since there is an apparent disconnect between public sentiments expressed about attack ads and the actual effectiveness of attack ads, it is worth taking a moment to offer a suggestion about why they work. The answer proposed here is rooted in message framing which has its roots in Prospect Theory (for an overview of PT, see the first article in this series). One component of the rhetorical strategy of message framing, which helps account for the effectiveness of attack ads, is the certainty effect. The certainty effect says that people underweight outcomes that are merely probable in comparison with certain outcomes, unless they are persuaded that their situation is perilous enough that they must take a risk in order to enhance it. That means, that most voters, even if they aren’t terribly thrilled with an incumbent are still less likely to vote for the challenger even if they perceive that he might do a better job. In that case, using only acclaim (positive) ads wont tend to secure the vote for the challenger since the voter is more likely to settle with what they know as safe, though not thoroughly desirable. Negative ads (loss framed ads) are necessary to get the voter to see that voting for the incumbent has the potential of causing serious economic or security harms to the voter.

The last point which remains to be addressed is what it is that makes an attack ad effective. Morris (2008) argues that the most effective attack ads share three characteristics: accuracy, believability, and thematic consistency. When ads do not meet these criteria, they backfire. A further component of effective ads is discussed by Knonholz (2008), who contends that effective negative ads are ads which are targeted to address concerns that voters already have about candidates or policies. In other words, if attack ads are to strike a responsive chord in voter perceptions they must be relevant to the context of the campaign and the concerns of voters (Seiter and Gass, 2010). Negative political ads that make an impact usually reflect and amplify bits of public thought and feeling according to Uderation (2009).

In conclusion, negative political campaigning is not new, and, like it or not, it is here to stay. Prior research has done some good work in clarifying certain positive aspects of negative ads while refuting false claims about its supposedly harmful effects. Much work remains however, in order to better understand why these ads are persuasive, what kinds of negative messages are actually effective, and under what circumstances they are most successfully employed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Proverbs 1:20-33 Wisom in the market square

(the substance of this study relies very heavily on an article by Dr. Bruce Waltke which is well worth getting your hands on if you can, Waltke, B. (1999). Lady Wisdom as Mediatrix. Presbyterion, 1-15.)

I. the setting
A. the town square
1. Excavations at Tel el-Qadi, ancient Dan, exposed a large, enclosed plaza between the outer and inner gates.
2. The outer gate functioned as the setting for court sessions and council meetings; the plaza was used for commercial trade and public meetings.
3. At the gate there existed a play of life involving commerce, the court, and administration that could not be mastered without wisdom
B. the parts of the town square
1. Street – refers to the areas outside the houses in a town setting
2. Square – located inside the city in front of the gate-streets and markets were gathering places for people--- seem Amos 5:16; Ruth 4:11 –at the gate
3. At the head of the noisy street – the image is of a noisy crowd
4. Entrance of the gates – describes more precisely the place spoken of in the second line of v20—this is the part of the city where legal and other public matters were handled
C. The sermon fits the setting
1. Lady Wisdom’s podium is the most prominent place in the city-the street, the public square, the top of the hills, and the gateways designate not diverse localities within the city—but aspects of the gate at the entrance of the city. She sets her podium on the highest wall.
2. Lady wisdom having chosen the most advantageous point of the city in order to be heard far and wide—delivers her speech with emotion and fervor to capture the attention of fools
a. Wisdom shouts –calls out to in order to get the attention of the people in the noise and confusion of a busy marketplace
b. She lifts her voice-she makes her voice heard—or causes them to listen to what she says
II. the speaker
A. Throughout this unit Wisdom is personified, that is, represented as a speaking person. Wisdom is a feminine noun that is why she is personified as a lady and not a man. Linguists have shown that, in general, the grammatical gender of a noun guided the poets imagination in his personification of lifeless objects.
B. Wisdom occurs frequently in the early chapters of Proverbs. She appears as a hostess -9:1-6, as a child playing in a primordial time – 8:22-31, as a sister—(a bride)—7:4—and as a guide 6:22
C. Waltke argues that Wisdom – designates a fixed, eternal, religio-social order, an order that God created, established and upheld
III. the audience
A. Naïve ones–same word used in v4—however it refers not just to immature and inexperienced people but rather to those who love ignorance, and deliberately refuse to listen to instruction in right living-they love foolishness
B. Simple-minded – about these people Kidner says, “mentally, he is naïve…morally he is willful and irresponsible… a man who is empty-headed
C. Scoffers –renders a term used in Psa 1:1; and Isa 29:20. It refers to people who openly scorn or ridicule God and religion—the term is often used in the Proverbs for a person expresses contempt for wisdom
D. Fools – a person who is insensible to moral truth and acts without regard to it
E. Covenant learners -v28-32—switch in personal pronoun –from “you” to “they”
IV. the message
A. the Speech is organized in two parts:
1. a sermon addressed to fools -20-27, cf 22---
2. a statement in third person addressed to the children of the covenant – 28-33
B. The sermon (vv22-27) has two sections –an invitation to fools 22-23 and denunciation of them 24—27
1. Her invitation to fools:
a. it is urgent, “how long?” – the rhetorical questions is is accusatory and it calls on the unwise to realize the acute crisis that confronts them and demands of them a change in direction. So it is essentially an admonition to repent.
b. it is addressed to naïve ones, scoffers, and fools
1) the naïve love not committing themselves to wisdom but remaining in an open state of seduction
2) fools simply hate knowledge—reject it or refuse it
c. it is an admonition to repent—Lady wisdom admonishes her audience to repent and strengthens her admonition with promise in v23
1) the admonitions
(a) turn- wisdom is addressing her words to the simple one, the scoffers, and the fools mentioned in v22. Turn comes from the Hebrew word, shub, – which has as its central meaning, to change course of direction. So LW demands a conscious and willing turning toward her reproach, a turning that entails a radical reorientation of their affections toward her teaching and a total repudiation of self-satisfaction with their love of folly
(b) Reproof-correction, reprimand, rebuke or scolding that Wisdom gives the foolish
2) The promise: I pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you
(a) I will pour out my spirit on you. Wisdom is likened to a fountain of water, a gushing spring for the person who will accept her instruction.It’s a promise of spiritual illumination, Eph. 1:17-18; 2Tim. 2:7
(b) I will make my words known. This simply repeats the thought of the previous line from a different perspective. My words = my thoughts, decisions
(c) Wisdom is accessible to all
(d) What does this tell us about the role of the church in world? (Matt. 5:14-16)
2. Her denunciation:
a. a scolding accusation for not listening to her-v24-25
1) LW left a door of hope open to fools in vv22-23 and now she shuts the door as indicated by the shift to the perfective tense. LW bases her judicial sentence against the simpletons on their deafening silence
2) She uses 4 predicates to describe the simpleton’s rejection of her sermon
(a) refused to listen–refusal to obey God’s commands
(b) paid no attention – means a conscious, willing and attentive use of the ears. She says, “you have completely ignored me.”
(c) neglected – let loose—to let slip through the fingers
(d) did not want my reproof – same word rendered give in 1:10

3) LW’s appeals
(a) I have called—invited or advised
(b) Stretched out my hand – refers to the gesture inviting someone to come toward the one calling. It is might be aimed at getting the attention of the fools.
b. giving the grounds for the judicial sentence that she will mock them at the time of their distress—vv26-27. Laugh and mock – express the inward joy and disdain a mighty conqueror feels toward the defeat of his abject enemies – Ps 2:4; 37:13; 59:8
3. Her judicial sentence:
a. she will not listen to them v26-
b. they will fall into calamity
1) v27-focuses on the degree of the coming disaster
2) Similes –like a storm—and – like a whirlwind. The combined simile aims to picture the calamity befalling fools as coming suddenly and as so catastrophic that nothing survives it
3) Calamity-refers to suffering, trouble, or disaster
4) Dread- refers to terror or fright
5) Whirlwind-a destructive and violent storm
6) Distress and anguish-pain and misery, express the strong negative emotions produced in the fools by the ruinous disaster
7) The mood of fools will change from complacency, stubbornness, and pride to extreme terror when their destruction comes

C. Her statement to the covenantal children:
1. the withdrawal of Lady Wisdom from the fool’s cries at the time of judgment–v28
a. Then – takes the audience beyond the judgment itself to LW’s deriding laughter v27 and decisive withdrawal v28 after disaster strikes
b. Fools will cry out to her and earnestly seek her, but she will not respond and will not be found
c. Call on me-at the time they call in their trouble—that is—after the distress and anguish take hold of them
d. I will not answer—I will pay no attention to you
e. They will seek me diligently-seek diligently – a word meaning to look for intently
f. Spurned- used in v7—fools despise wisdom –in v23—Wisdom asked the people to pay attention to “my reproof”—that is to the correction Wisdom gives to the fools because of their errors –the same is the sense in this verse
2. the inevitability of judgment for those who reject her- v29-31; now the judicial sentence comes
a. eat of the fruit of their own way – is an idiomatic way of saying that people must suffer the consequences of their conduct. Fruit refers to the storm and whirlwind (v27) with its accompanying distress and anxiety. The metaphor emphasizes the natural, inevitable consequence foolish living
b. satiated with their own devices –
1) satiated means to be filled or gratified to the point of being stuffed
2) devices—refers to mental activities such as evil plans, schemes, or intentions that may or may not have become actions
3. a generalizing substantiation condemning fools and commending the wise – v32-33
a. v32
1) The naïve-those of v22 who love their ignorance
2) Waywardness- refers to turning away from or refusing instruction in right living. The refusal to listen to instruction causes their death. Instead of turning toward LW’s rebuke, the simpletons turn away from it and implicitly toward sin; had they turned toward her rebuke they would have found life; by turning away from it they found death
3) Complacency – be at ease by neglecting or ignoring what should be done. Its a feeling of false security
4) Fools—stupid people are destroyed by their own lack of concern
b. v33-the discourse concludes with commendation of the wise
1) he who listens - The opposite of turning away from LW’s rebuke is listening to her
2) live secure – means be safe—have security—live in peace-this condition contrasts with the destruction of fools in v32
3) Be at ease –sense of having peace of mind, not being troubled by anxious thoughts and fears
4) Dread of evil- trouble, difficulties, or misfortune