Election '97: Negative Campaigning Works

Article excerpt

Despite politicians' pleas for a good, clean fight it seems they may be wasting their time. Scientific studies suggest what the spin doctors say - negative campaigning is remembered better and seen as more informative.

Given equal amounts of positive and negative information about a candidate, the overall impression of voters is skewed towards the negative, says a review of the data available in this month's Psychiatric Bulletin.

Dr Nicholas Beecroft, registrar at the Maudsley Hospital, London, who conducted the review, said that people have a generally positive view of others with the result that negative information is seen as more salient. "If one expects the average person to be basically decent, honest and polite then if someone is presented as dishonest this would give a more marked impression," he said. In one study a single negative sentence was enough to sway voters against a candidate, but different shortcomings were given different weight. People were presented with neutral information about two candidates which differed only in what the candidate was accused of. "This single sentence was enough to sway the voters against the candidate. …