MTSU symposium focuses on political attack ads

MTSU symposium focuses on political attack ads

Despite heavy public criticism, there’s a reason negative campaign ads still flood the airwaves: They work, some experts say.

As the 2012 presidential campaign between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hit the home stretch, a panel of experts visited MTSU on Oct. 23 to discuss these negative ads.

The MTSU Department of Political Science, the Albert Gore Research Center and the College of Liberal Arts sponsored “Attack Ads In American Politics: How Much Is Too Much,” a symposium on negative campaign advertising. The event was held in the Student Union Building, Ballroom 250-C.

Dr. John Geer, chairman of the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University and an expert on negative political advertisements, was on campus along with former longtime Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon, Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, former 4th District congressional nominee Jeff Whorley and media consultant Bill Fletcher.

Geer made a presentation on “Advertising and the 2012 Presidential Campaign: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” followed by a panel discussion with the other experts. You can watch an excerpt from Geer’s talk below.

“This is set up to talk about the impact of campaign advertising, particularly negative advertising, on American politics and American government,” said Kent Syler, an assistant professor of political science at MTSU and moderator of the panel discussion. “This election cycle has seen more spending on negative advertising than any in American history.”

Syler, the former chief of staff for Gordon, said the symposium brought together some experts on negative advertising, as well as some people who have been the subject of negative advertising.

“No one likes negative ads, but they’re effective,” he said. “That’s why you see so many of them.”

Syler, who uses one of Geer’s books to teach one of his courses, said the Vanderbilt professor makes the case that those ads play a critical role in making our democracy work.

“His contention is that negative ads give voters more useful information than positive ads do,” Syler said, “and that negative ads actually add to the information environment in a campaign … and give voters information that they really need to know.”

The counterpoint is that too many negative ads make governing difficult for the winner, as well as making it hard for government in general to do its job.

— Jimmy Hart (