What if most of the effort put into winning news cycles is pointless or even counterproductive?
In 2009, The Annual Review of Political Science published the article "Negative Campaigning." Its authors, Professors Richard R. Lau and Ivy Brown Rovner, surveyed scholarly work on negative advertisements in political campaigns. They found that attacking a political opponent is likely to result in voters evaluating him or her less favorably, but that the attacker is at risk of being thought of less favorably too. "If anything, this backlash effect appears to be a bit stronger and more consistent than lowering evaluations of the target of the attacks," the scholars wrote. "On balance, then, there is simply no support in the scientific literature for the hypothesis that negative campaigns are any more effective than any other type of campaign strategy."
The pervasiveness of attack ads are evidence enough that candidates and campaign strategists disagree. Perhaps they're right. Maybe they're wrong. The fact that neither judgment can be proven correct is worth keeping in mind while pondering the latest from David Brooks, who has lately wrestled with how to conceive of presidential campaigns. Are they like a courtship where candidates try to woo voters? Or like American Idol, where they're trying to wow the audience with their talents and likability? Or perhaps its like a plumber bidding for a job. "Voters aren't really looking to fall in love with the guy," Brooks writes. "They just want someone who will fix the pipes. The candidate's job is to list the three or four things he would do if elected."