Style: The How of
Negative Political Advertising
Political pollster Patrick Caddell once warned Jimmy Carter that: "The old cliche about mistaking style for substance usually works in reverse in politics. Too many good people have been defeated because they tried to substitute substance for style; they forgot to give the public the kind of visible signals it needs to understand what is happening" ( Sabato, 1981, p. 322).
For our purposes, style can be defined as the way in which audio, visual, and narrative techniques are used in the construction of negative political messages. Thus, style is the how of negative political advertising. Style is the way in which the story is told. Primarily, we concern ourselves with the narrative techniques that make up the plot of the negative ads. We offer our own narrative typology, and we provide a number of examples for each manifestation. (For an alternative narrative typology applied to political advertising, see Smith & Johnston, in press.)
Burnham ( 1983) found that "80-85 percent of the information that is retained about TV commercials is visual" (p. A6). According to Devlin ( 1986), "photography in spots is very important because research has shown that people remember the visual more than they retain the specifics of the audio copy" (p. 27). In fact, "the mere existence of a video image reduces recall of audio information" ( Kaid & Davidson, 1986, p. 187; see also, Garramone, 1983; Warshaw, 1978).
Nonverbal cues are very important in information processing. Nimmo ( 1974)