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The backlash effect: Why black propaganda also hurts those behind it

It is a certainty that as we move closer to the election homestretch, many politicians in the Philippines will be resorting again to black propaganda, and this reminded me of an exam response I drafted for my media and politics class during my first semester here at the University of Missouri. In the following article, I will refer to a body of research that shows how negative advertising can hurt, rather than help, those behind it.

A photo I took when I covered the special elections in Lanao Del Sur in May 2007

A photo I took when I covered the special elections in Lanao Del Sur in May 2007

The only advantage the Philippines gets from holding elections is the slight, temporary boost to its economy attributed to massive campaign spending.

The campaign season is especially a fiesta for the media, particularly for television networks, which benefit not only from an unusually larger audience for political news (as many citizens treat politics as a form of entertainment) but also from a significantly larger advertising pie from campaign ads.

Political advertising is important as the public learns from it.

A study found that recall of political ads was more significantly associated with knowledge of candidates’ issue positions than newspaper use or watching television news (Brians & Wattenburg, 1996).

This is especially true for negative ads, or those that portray a candidate in a negative light.

Let’s refer to negative advertising as attack ads (Benoit, 1999).

A meta-analysis of political advertising literature found that political television advertising had significant, although low, effects on both learning about issues and on perceptions of candidates (Benoit, Leshner & Chattopadhyay 2007).

This is especially true for attack ads as another study found that “negative campaigns increased campaign knowledge” (Lau, Sigelman & Rovner, 2007).

But some words of caution: Attack ads don’t always work in favor of those behind them.

A study found that while attack ads can negatively affect attitudes toward the target of the ad, they also negatively affect attitudes toward the politician behind the attack ad (Allen & Burrell, 2002). Or, by extension, whoever the public perceives to be behind it.

This is called the backlash effect.

The study concluded that “negative advertising hurts the sponsor more than the target.”

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