Thursday, July 10, 2008

Campaign Ads Use Fear

Terrorism, a slow economy and rising gas prices are issues that can keep American voters awake at night.

Political strategists know that the most successful candidates are masters at capitalizing on fears such as these, and that can make a huge difference at the polls.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was running for president against conservative Barry Goldwater when his campaign unleashed the "daisy ad." It showed a little girl counting as she plucked a daisy, charmingly mixing up her numbers. Then a baritone voice takes over, counting down to an overwhelming nuclear explosion. It's followed with a warning that the stakes are too high not to vote for Johnson.

The ad, which ran only once, was so chilling and effective, analysts say, it helped Johnson win the presidency by one of the widest margins in U.S. history.

CNN recently gathered eight undecided voters to see how they would respond to attack ads and how the ads might affect their choices. They met at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where psychologist Drew Westen studies how brains react to candidates' messages.

Westen, who wrote The Political Brain, said fear-based attack ads are effective because they tap into a voter's subconscious.

Read the entire article.

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