Does negative political advertising really work? Most of us hate those ads, but one political scientist calls them a “multi-vitamin for the democratic process.”

Political scientist Kenneth Goldstein says that attack ads spark voters’ interest and participation. According to Goldstein, “There’s this gut reaction that if a political advertisement is negative, it must have a deleterious affect on American politics. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the more that people are exposed to negative advertising, the more they know, the more engaged they are and the more likely they are to vote.”

Goldstein says much of the criticism of negative advertising is rooted in the incorrect notion that the American public is easily manipulated, but he doesn’t think this is true. “People learn when they see contrasts,” he says. “If it’s white, you don?t see it. If it?s black, you don?t see it. It’s when you see the whole painting that there is some contrast.” He believes that voters have the ability to intelligently weigh competing claims.

We don’t need a prophet to tell us that we’re going to see lots of them during the 2008 campaign, since they’ve already started.

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