Effects on Society:
An Unexplored Area
The controversy surrounding the use of negative political advertising is based on a set of arguments, some explicit and some implicit, that negative political advertising has an effect that is different and more harmful on the body politic than positive political advertising. These arguments may be due to the pejorative tone of the phrase "negative political advertising." Because the term includes the world "negative," there must be something bad about it. If indeed there is something bad about negative political advertising, it must be doing something bad to the individual, political institutions, and to society (QED).
Mudslinging is a popular synonym for negative political advertising. Stewart ( 1975) has shown that when the populous is asked to define what mudslinging tactics entail, the most popular responses were: "twists, distorts, or misleads in his charges against his opponent; attacks the personal life, or character of his opponent; presents irrelevant facts and charges against his opponent or for his own ideas" (p. 281). The populous clearly has a negative view of mudslinging. As Stewart put it, "They (the people) see mudslinging as a candidate bent on destroying his opponent with every means at his disposal, regardless of ethical considerations or simple honesty" (p. 281).
As we have shown in our research (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1989b; see also, Johnson & Copeland, 1987; Pfau & Burgoon, 1989; Roddy & Garramone, 1988), it is when negative political advertising departs from the issues and becomes personal that negative political ads become the most objectionable. It is these personal areas, such as religion and family, that are identified as areas the vast majority of prospective voters believe fall outside the