Vanderbilt University political scientist John Geer, the nation’s leading expert on negative political advertising, is available to comment on the U.S. Democratic and Republican presidential primary elections. Geer co-chairs Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.
Among the topics Geer can address are:
The candidate who raises the most money won’t necessarily win
Big money is more wisely spent on lower profile races than the presidential contest, says Geer, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.
“On the presidential front, it probably doesn’t matter as much,” Geer says. “Just look at Jeb Bush. He has raised more money than everybody and spent more money and he’s still languishing in the polls. I think money matters more in congressional races and senate races and lower level races.”
Negative advertising is kicking in a little early this time around
“Usually nomination battles tend not to have lots of negative ads, because you have Democrats competing against Democrats for the support of fellow Democrats, and the same with Republicans” Geer says. “But the amount of attacks we’re seeing appears higher than usual. The reason is simple: the Republicans have serious disagreements, and those disagreements are leading to very harsh attacks between (Ted) Cruz and (Marco) Rubio and some of the other Republicans.”
Geer is the author of In Defense of Negativity: Attack Advertising in Presidential Campaigns, University of Chicago Press.
Ads are more likely to shape the narrative of the general presidential campaign than change anyone’s vote
Probably about 90 percent of Americans already know which party they will vote for, Geer says.
“There just are not many persuadable voters,” he says. “Ads, as a result, at the presidential election do not influence the vote very much. What they can shape is the narrative of the campaign.
“Is the campaign going to be about change?” Geer says. “Is it going to be about the economy or international terrorism?
“The ads can shape that narrative. And in particular, negative ads can matter more than positive ads, since journalists are more interested in giving ink to attacks. Whether you like negative ads or not, they are more interesting than positive ads, which tend to be boring.”
Voter anger is dominating the primary campaign
Donald Trump may be the most visible example of voters channeling their anger into a candidate, but Geer says the emotion plays a role in the other Republican campaigns and that of Democrat Bernie Sanders as well.
“The Republican Party is made up of two sorts these days, pragmatists and purists,” Geer says. “The purists are particularly unhappy. They weren’t wild about (2008 Republican presidential nominee John) McCain. They weren’t wild about (2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt) Romney. They’ve certainly never been happy about President Obama.
“You combine all of it, and we’ve got more anger than we have seen in the last 50 or 60 years.”
Amy Wolf, (615) 294-4021 (cell)