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Apr 19

The Explainer: Mudslinging Pros and Cons

That was one of the most famous negative campaign commercials of all time. Campaigning against the hard-line Republic Barry Goldwater, the Democrats put out this ad, which bluntly portrayed President Lyndon Johnson as the candidate of national survival and world peace. He won by a landslide.

The closing months and weeks of campaigns is said to bring out the absolute worst in politics, as mudslinging takes the place of reasonable debate. Tonight, we’ll be meeting a seasoned political strategist who thinks mudslinging and negative campaigning costs points.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.

 

I.

 

The campaign enters the home stretch with endorsements being increasingly important, as people try to sway voters’ choices. These can be positive or negative: consider the impact of one such endorsement, by this man: on trial for the worst political mass murder in our history, Andal Ampatuan Jr. wore one of those colored ballers signifying the candidate he supports –the last kind of endorsement the candidate needed.

But there’s bad news that can’t be faked, and the sort of bad information that comes from sources either faked or twisted. Which brings us to mudslinging –the term you see defined on your screen, with its emphasis on the unjustness of the accusations put forward. To be sure, every accused finds an accusation unjust; perhaps what’s more accurate is, the accusation must be patently false, or viewed as unjust by ordinary people, to be considered mudslinging.

In a campaign, candidates aim to portray themselves as the us, as we, the people, against them, whoever the them might be: foreign imperialists in bygone elections, or crooks and thieves in more recent ones.

To be sure even without the kind of instant mass media we have to day, anyone who bothers to go back to the dusty accounts of past campaigns will find campaigns as ferocious and controversial as the ones we endure today.

Since 1935, when we had our first national presidential election, mudslinging has been denounced as a scandalous part of politics, with everything from the personal lives and finances of candidates becoming fair game –and with rivals taking the lead in demonizing their opponents.

Since 1946, when a generation of two party politics came into the fore, there have been increasingly sophisticated mass media methods used to spread truth, untruths, and half truths about one camp or another; merrily helped along by a media hungry for headlines and an electorate inflamed with a kind of blood lust about its candidates.

The 1950s ushered in the onset not just of radio but television as mass media, and the start of a news cycle that never seemed to take a break. A simply untrue story could start in the papers, and get amplified in the broadcast media.

The most famous example being the alleged golden orinola, or chamberpot, of President Quirino, which, only decades later, proved to be a gross exaggeration: but it became the symbol of an unpopular administration that went down to massive defeat in 1953.

As TV entered the fray, and populism held sway, even the old lines of what was considered beyond the pale in political attacks became obsolete. This 1965 Free Press editorial cartoon shows the ghoulish digging up of past issues by Ferdinand Marcos, who accused Diosdado Macapagal of collaborating with the Japanese during World War II, and of Macapagal digging up the Nalundasan murder case against Marcos.

Another Free Press editorial cartoon circa the eve of the proclamation of martial law, showed Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. as immune to every possible slander and accusation hurled against him –a picture distilling the kilometers of bombastic exposes and counter exposes that was the the shrill feature of premartial law politics.

Going into today’s contest, Malou Tequia of Publicus, gave a briefing to the Philippine Daily Inquirer just last week, where she pointed out anywhere from 3.6 to 5.4 million voters still haven’t made up their minds; after having tried every trick in the book, worn out campaigns are clutching at straws to to convince people. And one effective way to do this is to scare or disgust people so they won’t vote for the other guy.

Tracking public opinion on the candidates shows how their standing can go up and down depending on the controversies of the day, in this case, heres’s Pulse Asia’s Results.

On the other hand, Social Weather Stations has its own results, which also show similar ups and downs.

As does the Manila Standard Today survey, which however has a less dramatic finding as of late.

Tonight’s guest has this to say as her basic premise for the remainder of the campaign: let’s take a look:

But as you saw, for her, mudslinging might cost candidates more than it benefits them. Tequia put forward these findings from a survey, on public opinion with regards to negative campaigns.

And this answer, you see here, shows the overall dislike the electorate has, for fighting.

Which brings us to the question we’d like our guest to answer. If the dangers are so great, why does the mudslinging still take place; and most of all, is there any mud left to throw against anybody?

 

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