Don’t be Pavlovs Dog. Why negative campaigning works.

At the turn of the century Ivan Pavlov conducted his famous conditioning experiments. Pavlov would ring a bell prior to feeding dogs. Over time, the dogs were conditioned and came to associate the ringing of the bell with a stimulant. Soon, all Pavlov had to do was ring the bell and the dogs’ got hungry.

Today, sadly political party echo chambers and political strategists/consultants bank on conditioning voters the same way. Both political parties are guilty of attempting to condition voters to respond to meaningless and often negative campaign rhetoric. Most voters tell you they do not like negative ads. And for many, the result is they tune out. A reason why we have such awful voter turnout.

Even though many make the decision to tune out, human brains function in a way that we still process information non-consciously. It’s why negative barrages are designed in such a way to be mind numbingly simple and repetitive. We’ve all seen them. Candidate X BAD. (insert scary black and white photo!)  Candidate Y GOOD. (insert heart strings photo of candidate with the family dog!) The result is a totally dumbed down discourse.

Thinking about this recently because of an onslaught of negative campaign ads from both Republican County Executive candidates. Now, I consider both friends of mine who I like and respect. I’ll vote for the winner of the primary in the general election. But for now, I must say I’m totally disappointed. They tell me they “don’t want to go negative”, but feel like they “have to”. Again, it’s because it unfortunately works. And that’s what the consultants hammer in their heads.

Since executing this sort of strategy takes ad nauseam repetition it’s precisely why boatloads of money becomes so critical for campaigns. In other words, producing endless piles of slop is expensive. (We need campaign finance reform desperately, and may it could help address this.)

I KNOW we’re better than this. So please, do your part. Be an active and engaged participant in democracy. Don’t succumb to malaise and definitely don’t become Pavlov’s dog allowing yourself to simply respond to the conditioning.

I’m trying to do my part by writing at least 2 posts on (1) mailer from each of the (2) candidates. In them, I’ll outline where I think the candidates are being unfair, misleading or outright factually incorrect. I’ll start tomorrow with Glenn Eckharts mailer I got the other day. And then Tuesday with Brad Osborne’s. Both mailers were perfect examples of exactly what I’m talking about.

I do hope both of my friends pivot to the issues eventually. . . The voters deserve that. There aren’t two people more knowledgeable about County Gov’t then Glenn and Brad. Talking about ideas and issues in a positive way plays to both their strengths. Not the garbage they’ve been putting out so far. 

An actual campaign billboard in the United States. . . .