Is That Candidate Ad Negative?

May 8, 2018

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The ominous music, the tattooed men and guns are the elements in one campaign ad for U.S. Senate candidate Russ Fagg.  But is it negative?

That’s a tricky question, said Montana State University political scientist David Parker.

First, he said, candidates buy television ads because it’s still the most effective and efficient way to get name recognition.

Second, classifying an ad as negative or positive can be tricky. Parker said in the political science world a negative ad spends the entire time attacking an opponent.

So under that definition, Parker said that ad, despite the dark overall tone would be classified as positive.

“It might have some negative images, but he’s talking about himself,” said Parker.

A spokesperson for Fagg’s campaign said that ad just finished running on television after being on for 6 days statewide on cable TV, as well as in the Billings and Great Falls broadcast markets, especially around Fox news and ESPN. She said it was replaced Tuesday by a new television ad focusing on Fagg’s support for the death penalty.

In that ad, the narrator said “….because right and wrong is black and white. Matt Rosendale? Rosendale opposes the death penalty…”

Parker said the political science world would classify that as a contrast ad, “Where he says, 'Here’s my position. Here’s the position of my opponent.'”

“Those ads might have dark imagery or a negative tone in terms of music, but technically we would say he has a positive ad and a contrast ad,” he said.

Four candidates – Troy Downing, Russ Fagg, Matt Rosendale, and Al Olszewski - are vying in the June Primary for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in November.

“What Russ Fagg is trying to do is basically show he’s a strong (President) Trump supporter based on certain issues like crime and immigration,” said Parker. “So he’s certainly going after the Trump base in those ads, for sure.”

Parker said political science studies are mixed on whether these types of ads work with voters. He said in 2012 Tester hit the airwaves with positive ads that seemed to move voters at the polls. He added political consultants will say voters remember negative information and will act on negative information.