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Want to Win as a Democrat? Quit the Negative Campaigning

by David Yee, published

In a new study, findings have been replicated once again that the different political ideologies perceive negative campaigning in totally different ways.

In particular, to win as a liberal, the candidate is best off when staying on message with a positive spin, while conservatives thrive best by energizing the base with negative campaigning.

Negative campaigning has been with us from the very start of the Republic, for a very good reason -- the perception that it works.

Often, it works so well that candidates are tempted to use it as the primary campaigning method, and not just as a retaliatory or 'last resort' method.

But what this new study indicates is a growing asymmetry in the political thought process between liberals and conservatives -- in particular what motivates them the most.

In 2008, Barack Obama energized the under-30 voting bloc with a positive message, capturing 66 percent of the bloc's vote. No president since the era of exit polling has ever captured this bloc by such a large margin.

While Obama found it more difficult to maintain a positive message in 2012, he still claimed the majority of the under-30 bloc. While he ultimately won with 33 fewer electoral votes, voter turnout was down by 3.4 percent--something that historically can destroy Democratic candidates.

2016: A Race With Two Different Styles of Campaigning?

The Sanders campaign has definitely embraced the concept of staying on message without directly attacking the opponents, while the Clinton campaign still seems content to 'slug it out' with opponents, individually and collectively.

The Democrats have a fantastic electoral map, yet have historical trends to buck if they plan on winning in 2016. In particular, the fact that since the 22nd Amendment, the incumbent party has never claimed the White House if the president's approval rating dipped below 60 percent by Election Day (Obama is currently under 50 percent).

The two currently viable Democratic candidates will both give their opponents almost limitless opportunities for negative campaigning -- Sanders with his far left agenda, Clinton with her political baggage.

The question becomes, will either candidate be able to stay on message in a way that both energizes the base, encourages moderates and independents into the fold, and increases voter turnout?

On the Republican side, a 2008-style campaign of "a vote for ______ is a vote for 4 more years of Obama," might be sufficient to win.

Sander's economic policies illicit fear in the Republican base, while Clinton's mere presence on the ballot would bring out anger and disgust.

In a nutshell, any of the Republican candidates will have a political smorgasbord to feed their voter's basic political needs this election.

Would an Independent Candidate be Able to Break This Cycle?

The personality traits associated with these types of psychological studies are rarely party-associated traits. Instead, these traits are measured on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

One thing we always have to remember about independent candidates and voters is that their different political beliefs and attitudes can be found in every 'corner' of the liberal-conservative spectrum. Independents being centrists or moderates is a complete myth.

An independent's only hope would be to have a message representing a panacea-like solution to all that ills our political system -- and that will be a tough nut to crack.

In the meantime, as we get deeper into the political season, we will see more and more ads, especially attack ads from both sides.

It will be interesting to see if the Democrats can resist the temptation to 'go negative,' or whether their strategy will be evidence-based and focus more on the positive attributes of their message.

Photo Credit: Aquir /

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