Negative and Misleading Advertising

Negative ads usually don’t give misinformation such as incorrect voting times, places or options, but they do create barriers to truthful information.

Examples of Misinformation

For example, because of campaign ads in the 2012 presidential election, nearly half of all voters believed the highly criticized TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program, or “bank bailout”) legislation that kept large financial institutions from failing in 2008 was started under President Obama, but it was actually started under President Bush.  

Another example is that 31% believed it was proven true that the US Chamber of Commerce spent large amounts of money it had raised from foreign sources to support Republican candidates.

This type of information can result in voters casting their ballots based on incorrect information. False information can influence groups and individuals to believe that one candidate is going to negatively or positively impact their group more than another candidate.

Minnesota in 2012

In the 2012 Minnesota elections, the state saw a significant increase in outside money being applied to local and state races. Both parties were adversely affected with particular candidates being targeted with false claims.

For candidates with limited funding, it’s almost impossible to counteract false claims, leaving the candidates feeling powerless and the voters ill informed.

Impact of Negative Advertising

Political campaigns use negative ads to excite or anger their voter base, but many voters are more upset when they believe or find out these ads are unfair or untrue.

Negative information is often more memorable than positive information, so voters remember bad things about candidates more easily than they remember other information. These ads are more complex too, requiring people to think about the ad more and make assumptions from them. (When a candidate says, “this person is bad,” that really means “I, the candidate, am good.”)

Curtain of Dark Money

In the 2014 election, over $1 billion was spent by “dark money” groups – political action groups, or PACs, that do not need to disclose their donors. Organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the Move to Amend group seek to remove dark money from politics and prevent negative ads that do not identify in the ad who supported it.

See the following page for more information about issues with money in politics.