Polarising politics

Research this week showed that negative campaigning by the Presidential candidates is polarising support for and against.

It’s a demonstration that fear-mongering works – because it provides evidence people need to justify a position, or evidence they need to decide on a position.

Attack-adverts utilise the same effect that causes Governments to lose elections rather than win them: dislike and fear. Because it is easier to dislike than to like. There will be many differences of opinion between a political party and each voter. It’s much harder for a voter to find things they agree with inside one political party (or Party Leader).

In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 32% said their view of Obama was “very negative,” six points up over two months of negative campaigning.

So the adverts worked to make anti-Obama respondents firmer in their view.

Romney suffered an equally large hit, with 24% of respondents indicating they had a “very negative” view… Eighteen percent had the same response in April.

So the Obama campaign against Romney gave evidence and reason to those already disposed to dislike him.

But the poll also indicates a polarization on both sides of the favorability spectrum, with more responding that they have a “very positive” view of both Romney and Obama.

It appears that taking it to your opponent can work FOR you as well as AGAINST them. That’s because attack campaigning has the effect of being “FOR” something – by defining what it is against. This generates a sense of tribalism – a decision to side with those who are also against the person you dislike.

Thirty-three percent of respondents indicated that they have a positive view of the president, while 13% had the same feelings about Romney. Both numbers are up three percent since April.

So Obama is doing better – he’s more likable. The difference relates to pre-existing sentiments.

Also notable, 43% said they hold a less favorable opinion about Romney based on what they’ve heard about him in the last couple of weeks, compared to 28% who hold a more favorable view.

Similarly, 44% said they hold a less favorable opinion of Obama based on the information they gained from the campaign in recent weeks, compared to 27% who now see Obama in a more favorable light.

The effect of the attack adverts is about even. The similarity in size of the pie is hinting at the sort of even-split Party polarisation we’ve been seeing in America in recent times.

So, not surprisingly, CNN’s Poll of Polls says the Presidential race is very close.

The poll shows that 47% of registered voters say they’d vote for Obama if the November election were held today, with 43% saying they’d cast a ballot for Romney.

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