DA and EFF political attack ads - The Power of Leverage

2014-04-24 18:35

Political attack ads during elections similar to those being produced by both the DA and EFF are psychological devices that powerfully shape political behaviour and drive public discourse. The basis of the common voter in South Africa is loyalty. Attack ads can break through party affiliations and loyalty, and also sway independent or undecided voters.

Joel Weinberger, PhD, a psychology professor at Adelphi University, in New York in the United States of America comments the following with regards to attack ads during political campaigning: “I wish candidates should not use them, but attack ads work perfectly.” So that is the reason why political parties spent fortunes on attack ads: they work.

Some people like those running the public broadcaster of South Africa consider attack ads as offensive and therefore must be removed or rejected from broadcasting line-up.

Ted Brader, PhD, in his book Campaigning for Hearts and Minds: How Emotional Appeals in Political Ads Work, writes: "People regard fear ads as the worst kind of negative advertisement. That is a misconception. Fear is useful in political discourse. It can help direct the public's attention to important issues. It prompts people to seek more information and rethink their course of action. It unlocks the grip that habit holds over people's decisions."

In one research study, published in the American Journal of Political Science, Brader and his colleagues found that campaign attack ads caused people to seek more information and remember more facts from a newscast aired afterward more than positive ads. In other words they make people to vote wisely.

“Fear ads heighten attentiveness and weaken people’s reliance on partisan habits"

On the other hand ads that sparked feelings of enthusiasm in viewers, telling upbeat good stories — reduces viewers’ interest in learning more about candidates’ positions, the Brader research discovered.

Given all this I must say that the EFF ad that has been withdrawn and now under contestation is the most nerve wrecking and astonishing political attack ad! The heart of the ad is women crying as images of police brutality are displayed shooting at their husbands. And then immediately in the background shockingly appears Julius Malema in a black and white live photo just like the rest of the ad is black and white. Psychological studies have discovered that black-and-white video images are ten times more likely to signal an appeal to fear than colour images.

Julius Malema's body language in the ad appears to be appealing for help in the midst of police violence and mayhem but his deep low pitched blurry voice is asking people to vote for EFF.  Casey Klofstad, a professor of political science at the University of Miami says: An existing body of research shows that low voice pitch in men and women signals things like social dominance and strength.

The whole ad is a clever and supremely powerful psychological deep technique that has proven to work as it opens skulls, disgorged brains and penetrate the heart.

Washington State University political science professor Travis Ridout, PhD, once wrote in Political Psychology magazine. “If you’re behind, you need to shake things up, and that means making people anxious about the other candidate so they will reconsider their voting decision.”

On the other hand psychologists and political strategists affirm that positive ads are used when the political party is ahead and leading. That is the reason you see ANC ads and its overall campaign is positive with a feel good story: it is because they are the leading pack.

“If you’re ahead and want to cement peoples’ support, appeal to the emotions of pride and enthusiasm.” reflects Professor Travis Ridout.

Ruthann Weaver Lariscy, who is a professor in the department of advertising and public relations in the Grady College at the University of Georgia in the US, says: "Unfortunately, negative political ads work. And unless you live in a cave, you are likely not immune to their effects".

Political advertising is part of democracy. The public broadcaster of South Africa has a character of the simplistic, devoid of capacity to deal with robust hard hitting engagement, and very often is leaving reason embattled.

Aggravating as some of these ads may be it is still not right for the public broadcaster to refuse them.  The market place of ideas that will allow ideas of progress to prevail has their heated participation as one of its imperatives. Maturing has left me with the humility that everyone contributes something of value and must be carefully listened to.

** Visit the dedicated News24 page for all the latest updates regarding the upcoming elections.**

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