Negative ads fly-high months before election

Posted 11:54am April 12

by Vanessa Maltin
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

With seven months remaining until voters across the country cast their ballots in the 2004 presidential election, both President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are crowding the airwaves with ads-each more negative than the next.

Yet according to a recent study by University of Missouri Professor William L. Benoit, the negative ads are not coming from the presidential candidates themselves, but rather from groups such as the Move On Political Action Committee and the Media Fund. His study examines 21 30-second spots aired by these groups and concludes that approximately 93 percent of the time the ads make a negative statement about the candidates-mainly about President Bush. According to Benoit’s research, the conservative group, Citizens United, produced only one negative ad against Kerry.

Benoit said in an interview with the Washington Post that having surrogates do the name-calling while the candidate remains “high and dry” is a new version of an old political game.

“The idea is that if voters get upset about all the attacks, their ire will be toward the 527s and not the candidate,” Benoit said.

These groups, also known as 527s, are tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activities, often through unlimited soft money contributions. They are mostly advocacy groups that are actively attempting to influence federal elections by funding “issue ads” that criticize a candidate.

“The candidates are being incredibly hypocritical by allowing these outside groups to run negative ads about their opponents,” said George Washington University sophomore Lee Seligmann — a self-identified independent voter. “It is no different than Bush or Kerry running the ad themselves — this way they are just covering up their dirty business.”

While according to Benoit’s study, 93 percent of both candidates ads are highly negative, they differ in content. Kerry’s ads are divided equally among policy and character-attacking Bush on his policies including jobs, under funding No Child Left Behind, health insurance, and social security. President Bush spends most of his time attacking Kerry’s voting record, mainly on taxes, and for accepting money from special interest groups.

“Negative ads are just ridiculous and don’t make me think highly of either person,” said Zoe Papazoglou, a freshman at Hofstra University. “There are always going to be people who only take 20 second television clips as their education on a campaign, so what they see is just taken as fact and in turn they affect the election-it can only get worse as November approaches.”

But while students across the country are “annoyed” by negative ads, recent polls show that attacks on Kerry are helping the President come back from behind.

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup Poll released this week shows Bush leading Kerry 49 percent to 46 percent among registered voters-putting Kerry down from his 50 percent to 45 percent lead after his Super Tuesday sweep.

Emerging the primary season with a nearly clean slate, Kerry is now seen by many voters as “too liberal”-a label the Bush campaign has pressed daily in their ads and public statements.

“Ads do make a difference,” Seligmann said.

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