Since there are only two rivals in this race, negative ads can work. If Alison Lundergan Grimes can make voters question the benefits of re-electing Mitch McConnell, the only choice voters have left is Lundergan Grimes.
Whether creating a negative ad about the opponent or a positive ad about the candidate, politicians and their PACs often place a lot of faith in the power of information. They are convinced that, if they can just publicize the right facts, they can sway voters. Their weapon of choice in this ad is a televised lecture complete with a sonorous announcer and slides.
Unfortunately, their faith in facts is misplaced and their weapon misfires.
When Lundergan Grimes creates a negative ad about McConnell, she should aim to get viewers to feel—rather than to think. She should get viewers to feelthat in backing McConnell, they will experience in themselves all McConnell’s negative qualities—lifeless, tired, out of date, ready to shut down the government again, ignoring issues women care about, ignoring issues Hispanics care about. Viewers won’t pay attention to a boring lecture. Give them an experience they can feel. What is the actual impact on people in Kentucky of a government shutdown? Who cares if the last shutdown cost Kentucky over $100,000,000? Voters are more likely to respond to one desperate senior couple who might lose their Social Security. Voters respond not tol facts but to feelings.
While this ad does tell viewers a fact about McConnell, the ad tells viewers even more about Lundergan Grimes. Viewers react to the ad by immediately and effortlessly drawing inferences about the source of the ad. As far as viewers are concerned, the source is Lundergan Grimes even though the real source is a PAC working on her behalf.
If you make an ad that is dour, boring, and politics as usual, viewers conclude that you, the preceived creator of the ad, are dour, boring, and politics as usual. In other words, with this ad, Lundergan Grimes gives up her biggest advantages over McConnell–her freshness, her personality, and the fact that she is not Mitch McConnell.