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|Part of the Politics series|
In political campaigns, an attack ad is an advertisement whose message is meant as a personal attack against another candidate or political party. Attack ads often form part of negative campaigning or smear campaigns, and in large or well-financed campaigns, may be disseminated via mass media.
Televised attack ads rose to prominence in the United States in the 1960s, especially since FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations require over-the-air commercial TV stations with licenses issued by the FCC—effectively all regulated TV stations, since others would either be public television or be pirated—to air political ads by both parties, whether it be attack ads or more traditional political ads. Although cable television and the internet are not required to air such ads, attack ads have become commonplace on both mediums as well.
Their use has gradually spread to other democratic countries as well, most notably in Canada.
One of the earliest and most famous television attack ads, known as Daisy Girl, was used by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. The ad opened with a young girl innocently picking petals from a daisy, while a man's voice (which may have had somewhat of a 'southwestern' accent similar to Goldwater's) performed a countdown to zero. It then zoomed in to an extreme close up to her eye, then cut to an image of a nuclear explosion. The ad was shocking and disturbing, but also very effective. It convinced many that Goldwater's more aggressive approach to fighting the Cold War could result in a nuclear conflict.
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Attack ads were used again by the campaign of George H.W. Bush against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. The two most famous were the "Willie Horton" ad and "Tank Ride", an ad which ridiculed Dukakis with visuals of him looking foolish while riding in a tank. The Willie Horton Ad was especially notable for how controversial it was. The ad begins with a simple statement of Vice President Bush's support of the death penalty. Then it describes the case of Willie Horton who was an African-American man convicted of murder. The ad continues to explain that Gov. Dukakis's prison furlough program (unsupervised weekend passes from Massachusetts prison) released Horton 10 times and, on one of those furloughs, he kidnapped a young couple, stabbed the boy and repeatedly raped the girl. The ad ends with the comment, "Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime."
The Dukakis tank ride ad from 1988 was a creative attack on Dukakis by the GOP and used footage created by the Dukakis team. The inaccurate, yet devastating ad not only helped guarantee Dukakis’s defeat, it also created a lasting negative impression. The ad suggested that Bush was more supportive of military spending and weapons programs than Dukakis, using video which framed Dukakis as anything but a leader. The footage was pulled from the news media on a day Dukakis took the tank ride to counter the claim that he was weak on defense. A large over-sized helmet and a wide smile made the Democratic candidate look ill-suited for the role of Commander-in-Chief. If listened to closely, the sound of grinding gears is evident, suggesting that Dukakis could not run the tank smoothly. The sound was added to the footage; tanks do not have gears that grind. The gear sounds were of an 18-wheeler.
The 2006 Mexican elections, likewise, were plagued with attack ads. The first of them were ads against Andrés Manuel López Obrador by the conservative PAN, claiming his "populistic" proposals would drive Mexico to bankruptcy and crisis; the effect was notorious in a country that already endured almost 15 years of continuous economical crisis. On the other hand, the PRD answered back with a round of attack ads against the current president Felipe Calderón, claiming that he was also indirectly guilty for causing the 1995 crisis; since Calderón was huging himself as "the president of employment", the ads closed with the tagline "dirty hands, zero employments". After López Obrador alleged that Felipe Calderón was illegally patronizing his brother-in-law Hildebrando Zavala, the tagline was changed to "dirty hands, one employment for his brother-in-law". Attack ads don't have to be purely for campaign purposes: there was also a party ad by the PAN, aired shortly before abortion was declared legal in the capital, in which a woman was sentenced to forceful abortion, in a scenario reminiscent of nowadays China.
The 2008 United States Democratic presidential primaries featured an ad by then-Senator Hillary Clinton directed at her main rival at the time, then-Senator Barack Obama which aired days before the Texas primary. The ad began showing children asleep in bed while a ringing phone can be heard in the background with a voice over explaining that it’s 3 A.M., a phone is a ringing in the White House, and that “something’s happening in the world”. The voiceover then asked voters if they wanted someone on the other end of the line who “already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military” and is “tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world”. While Barack Obama was never mentioned by name, the implication was clear and the ad set off an immediate firestorm of discussion and controversy causing even Obama himself to respond and describe it as an ad that “play[ed] on people’s fears” and predicted that it would not work. Later in the campaign, after Barack Obama had become the Democratic nominee for president, Republican nominee John McCain echoed a similar sentiment. In a controversial ad called "Celebrity," McCain's campaign asked: "[Barack Obama] is the biggest celebrity in the world. But, is he ready to lead?" The ad juxtaposed Obama supporters with photos of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
Recently, attack ads have spread online as political candidates publish their ads on YouTube. Carly Fiorina, a Republican candidate from California, released a video on YouTube depicting former Republican opponent Tom Campbell, as a “FCINO” or “Fiscal Conservative In Name Only.”
According to Lipsitz, Trost, Grossmann, & Sides, many voters claim to dislike negative campaigning on principle and want candidates to present policy proposals in a civilized manner. The voting public see attack ads as an element of smear campaigning. However, the continued use of these types of ads indicates that political operatives have found them to be useful. According to Lau and Rovner social psychologists feel that negative information has a tendency “to be more influential than equally extreme or equally likely positive information.” Citizens may want to hear the good qualities of the candidates but they tend to remember more about the less desirable ones when presented with them. Research indicates that voters are open to candidates attacking each other as long as it’s on issues that they deem to be “appropriate.” For example, survey of Virginia Voters, 80.7% of voters feel it is fair for a candidate to criticize an opponent for “talking one way and voting another” but only 7.7% feel it is fair for a candidate to attack an opponent for the “behavior of his/her family members.”
The effectiveness of attack ads has been debated by political pundits for years. Many political analysts are of the opinion that attack ads have the potential to sway voters. Professor Scott Hawkins “suggests that even a mention in the media that a candidate or party is planning to run negative advertisements can be beneficial, since it plants seeds of doubt in the voter's mind, especially early in the campaign when voters tend to be less involved. If the reported claims turn up in advertisements later in the campaign, they already seem familiar to the voter” (Note: As of 11/4/2012, this link is not working)
Attack ads can not only mobilize a candidates’ support base but also appeal to those who may not necessarily be politically active but happened to be watching television when the ad came on and were struck by the claims it made without knowing if they were true or not. The mere implication of a candidate’s name with a scandal can have long lasting and significant effects.
Some believe that attack ads are useful in shaping public opinion[who?]. This may be the result of the appeal to emotion which attack ads often represent. However, an attack ad may fail in its intended purpose and backfire against the group which used it. If an ad is seen as going too far or being too personal the voters may turn against the party that put out the ad. One example of an attack ad backfiring was during the 1993 federal election in Canada when the Progressive Conservative Party attacked Liberal Party leader Jean Chrétien by appearing to many to implicitly mock his Bell's Palsy partial facial paralysis. Outrage followed, and the PC Party was hurt badly in the polls. Similar backlash happened to the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2006 federal election for creating an attack ad that suggested that Conservative leader Stephen Harper would use armed Canadian soldiers to police major cities. The ad was never aired. Its effect was to diminish the believability of the Party's other attack ads. A leaked copy that was broadcast on the news offended many Canadians particularly the military, some of who were fighting in Afghanistan at the time. (See also 2006 Harper attack ads.)
Front groups 
Campaigns often establish or support front groups to run attack ads to deflect the criticism that comes from running them. A front group is an organization with political overtones that claims to represent one motivation or agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is cloaked in secrecy or rarely mentioned. For example, Rick Berman’s, Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its intention is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding. Leonard Steinhorn points out that” issue ads” run by front groups use deceptive names to hide their true sponsors-such as the United Seniors Association (USA), which spent $17 million on ads during the 2000 Presidential Campaign with no hint that the USA was backed by the pharmaceutical industry. The problem with front ads is that they cannot be controlled by the candidates which insulates the candidates from criticism even though they may support the content of the ad.
Other effects of attack ads 
As research suggests, attack ads in political campaigns are mainly effective because they contribute to citizen education and engagement, and only rarely have negative impacts. Voters often look to negative information to find reasons for supporting one candidate over another. However, there have been times when attack ads become too controversial in society and backfire against a candidate . For example, in 2006 Republican challenger Paul R. Nelson took his race against five-term U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) using one of the most controversial attack ads of the decade. His ad spun that, “Ron Kind has no trouble spending your money, he’d just rather spend it on sex,” and, “instead of spending money on cancer research, Ron Kind voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes.” Nelson’s challenge fell short, as Ron Kind was reelected, while the attack’s outrageous presentation provoked an uproar from Republicans and Democrats. According to Fridkin and Kenny, the negative coefficient for mudslinging suggest that challengers lose almost 3 points on the feeling thermometer when a candidate engages in mudslinging. The study also shows that the influence of negativity is less powerful for challengers than for incumbents. Nelson's ads, which also categorized him as a "hockey dad" two years before Sarah Palin infamously used hockey mom when running for Vice President, made Nelson a celebrity of sorts on The Opie and Anthony Show, and even conducted an interview on the show before the election.
In the United States, researchers have consistently found that negative advertising has positive effects. According to Finkel and Greer (1998), negative advertising “is likely to stimulate voters by increasing the degree to which they care about the election’s outcome or by increasing ties to their party’s nominee.” This is an important feature of negative campaign advertising because it can solidify a candidate's support going into an election. The finding was repeated by Ken Goldstein and Paul Freedman (2002), who found that negative campaign ads raise interest in the election as well as raise the perceived importance of the election, which increases voter turnout. Negative advertising, then, can be very beneficial to a candidate during a campaign to not only win votes but also get out the vote.
Negative advertising can also be used to demobilize voters. Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar (1995) found that negative campaign advertising appeals only to partisans. They go on to say that negative advertising actually alienates independents and demobilizes them as voters, which causes elections to be fought among the partisan extremes. This makes sense since it removes the independents as a voting bloc to be concerned about and allows the candidates to stick to the party line.
See also 
|Look up attack ad in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Daisy Girl" youtube.com. Retrieved March 2011
- Analysis of a "Willie Horton" ad from the 1988 campaign youtube.com. Retrieved March 2011
- Michael Dukakis digitaljournalist.org. Retrieved March
- Geer, John G. (2006). In Defense of Negativity: attack ads in presidential campaigns. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press., 127, 128.
- Clinton "3AM" advertisement
- Seelye, Katherine Q. and Zeleny, Jeff. (March 1, 2008). “Clinton Questions Role of Obama in Crisis.”
- [McCain calls Obama the biggest celebrity in the world.] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/07/30/mccain-ad-calls-obama-biggest-celebrity-in-the-world/
- Steinhauer, Jennifer (March 20, 2010). “Dose of Venom for Candidates Turns Ads Viral.”
- [Grossmann, Matthew and Lipsitz, Keena and Sides, John and Trost, Christine. “What Voters Want From Political Campaign Communication.” Political Communication. Vol 22 Issue3: 337-354. Jul-Sep 2005.]
- [Finkel, S.; Geer, J. (1998) A Spot Check: Casting Doubt on the Demobilizing Effect of Attack Advertising. American Journal of Political Science, 42(2), 573-595.]
-  Lau, Richard R. and Rovner, Ivy Brown. “Negative Campaigning.” Annual Review of Political Science. Vol 12: 285-306. 2009.
- Freedman, P. and Lawton, D. and Wood, W. “Do’s and Don’t of Negative Ads: What Voters Say.” Campaign Elections. Vol 20: 20-25. 1999.
- McGuffin, Ken, Political Attack Ads Can be Effective but Risky May 2004, rotman.utoronto.ca. Retrieved March 2011
- Steinhorn, Leonard. (2004). "Ads Are Us: Political Advertising in a Mass Media Culture" in Campaigns and Elections American Style. James A. Thurber and Candice J. Nelson (eds.). Boulder: Westview Press., 121.
- Mayer, R.N. (2007). “Winning the War of Words: The “Front Group” Label in Contemporary Consumer Politics,” Journal of American Culture., Vol. 30, No. 1, March 2007, 96-109.
- Political attack ad for Paul R Nelson, Congressional candidate Wisconsin-3rd
- Kahn, Kim Fridkin, and Patrick J. Kenney, (1999).“Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize of Suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship between Negativity and Participation.” American Political Science Review 93:4.
- Freedman, P.; Goldstein, K. (2002) Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect. The Journal of Politics, 64(3), 721-740.
- * Ansolabehere, S.; Iyengar, S. (1995) Going negative: How attack ads shrink and polarize the electorate. New York: Free Press.