Negative Campaigns - the awful truth

Yesterday I posted a tweet:

Click to go to Peter's Tweet

Click to go to Peter's Tweet

I was subsequently asked to cite proof that negative ads don't work, that residents want positive messages and to have someone to vote for.  I could only cite the fact that many supportive residents in Ward 3 would vote me for because I brought a message, not an attack.

It was seen as an empty (if noble) sentiment.  I would not classify the statement as empty; I would classify it as optimistically hopeful.

Are there not examples of positive campaigns that were successful?  Can we not consider Jack Layton's rise to Official Opposition, or Barack Obama bringing a campaign of "Yes We Can" leading to the Presidency?  Isn't Justin Trudeau's attempt to stay above the constant negative attack ads with a message of hope also relevant?  Are these merely some examples of the exceptions to the rule?

Searching for a sense on media coverage in Toronto may only lead to the realization that the media devours negativity.  It is not solely the fault of the media; we as the consumers are captivated with a sense of negativity - ie. a car accident where everyone slows down to watch.

A very good read about negativity is "News, Politics, and Negativity" by Stuart Soroka & Stephen McAdams.  It details examples of how negative news is likely to get more attention.   Negative news produces a stronger psychophysiological response.

To go further into the findings would only make me more saddened by the notion.  I have tried to keep my campaign as positive as possible.  Many campaigns stay away from the negative and are not rewarded with the same media attention.  The races most likely to be given media coverage will have scandal, intrigue, suspense & surprises.  Yet we aren't watching a movie in a theatre, we are reading papers or watching the television about the future of our city.  

Negativity in the right context is a very positive tool to spur debate.  For wards that felt many of the important issues were either ignored by an incumbent or the 'front-runner', a negative message of what is wrong is a powerful message.  I would just ask a typical resident if they think their city council race is important and have seen it on television.  If the answer is yes, it likely is one of several wards with intense ideological differences.  I do not need to single out any of those races; they have enough media coverage as it is.

Let's talk about Ward 3.

Ward 3 has ten candidates running for city council.  I have had the pleasure to meet 7 of the 9 other candidates running.  The conversations have been cordial, the debates and interactions have been about policies, not personal attacks.  Would a negative shift in any campaign alter who would be perceived as the front-runner?  Do we even know who the front-runner is?  My thoughts and opinions on the race will come in due time AFTER the election.  I look forward to the analytics of the race to see breakdown strategies and other data indicators.  

What has a non-adverse council campaign accomplished - little to no media attention.  Without verbal verbosity spewed with disgust and disdain, lacking of mob mentality and possible violence - Ward 3's race is low-key.  I would have hoped the fact Etobicoke has 4 of 6 (including Ward 2) seats without an incumbent running, it would be a big deal.  Having an almost complete overhaul of the representative face of Etobicoke may lead to a paradigm shift of our place in Toronto and our goals as a city.

For all the negativity, what is the real-life consequences?  Will the next council be divided again based on who's "team" they were on?  Will ideology and political affiliations be on display?  I have stated that I would not be endorsing a mayoral candidate.  I know I will be able to work with any winner to make Toronto a better city.  As long as there is a leadership that encourages open and honest debate; facts and good policy driving decisions, then there is hope.

In closing, I will stay the course and promote my campaign with Policy over Politics.  I will be open about the need to invest in our city.  I will avoid the bullet point politics that seems to leave little information on  "how, why, where, when, who"!  I hope that residents also agree that a positive message is what this city needs.

Peter Fenech


Posted on October 9, 2014 .