Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Political Smears and Learning

Both the McCain and Obama camps have gone negative. It must be October.

There's an old line about negative advertising -- people hate it, but it works. Obama "palled around" with domestic terrorists, or so says Sarah Palin. McCain palled around with the guy behind the huge savings and loan scandal many years ago, or so say recent ads. Tonight is yet another debate, and everyone wonders if the McCain and Obama's heels will go on and their gloves come off.

Political smears are old school presidential politics. They have a pedigree stretching back to some of the earliest presidential campaigns. Nothing new, nothing surprising, and we know they can sometimes influence voters.

But do they affect learning?

Yeah, kinda. How's that for a PhDweebish answer? Negative information grabs the attention, breaks through the indifference of some voters, energizes others, and generally can lead to some political learning. Advertising has become a key factor in what people know about a campaign, in part because the ads invade their entertainment programming and are harder to escape than straight news stories.

So tonight, if the heels are on and the gloves are off, we might not only see great political theater, we may have some people learn more than from a wonky policy discussion.

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