How Effective are Smear Campaigns?

Written by Elaine Hirsch

In the center of the political limelight is 2012 Presidential Candidate Herman Cain as he fights off allegations of past sexual infidelity and sexual harassment. The story has leaked out bit by bit, with new accusers coming from different directions and casting even more of a negative shadow on Cain. In his defense, Cain has turned around and pointed a finger at Texan rival Governor Rick Perry claiming that he is conducting a smear campaign against him to try to whittle his chances of receiving the GOP nomination presidency.

Negative campaigning has been around as long as politics and have appeared to grow increasingly more aggressive and less amiable throughout the years. A presidential hopeful has to understand that the moment he or she steps up to bat, there will be curve balls flying in from all different directions. A political candidate is subjected to searches through their pasts and they should expect any of their secrets to be scrutinized by the public. Although master’s degree programs in political science often cover theoretical topics, smear campaigns are frequently overlooked. Whether or not these smear campaigns are effective seems to rely largely on the seriousness of the allegations as well as the response of the attacked candidate. All smear attacks are effective to some degree because there will no doubt be some voters who will change their opinions on the candidate based on the information, but others will deliberately stand up for the victims of smear campaigns recognizing the attack for what it is. The results are indeed mixed.

There are many examples of such smear campaigns. Some of them have been on a larger scale and others more subtle. Some have been effective and others have been little more than an irritating whisper from the media. Sarah Palin was the victim of a smear campaign when opposing parties and the media attacked the wholesomeness of her family following the announcement that her unwed daughter was pregnant. As soon as the newspapers hit the stands Sarah Palin was being pressured to take her mind off of her campaigning and focus on defending her family’s image. People talked more about how Palin must have been as a mother rather than how she might be a as a political leader. Despite the attacks, however, most political analysts agreed that it was not the smear efforts that lost the election for Palin and McCain.

President Obama received his share of smear campaigning as well when he ran for president four years ago. His name and cultural background was used to create an image of him as a radical Muslim despite American and Christian upbringings. Smear campaigns are used in elections for all political positions of leadership. A smear ad came out against Michael Arcuri in 2006 accusing him of using taxpayer money to call a sex phone line. Evidence suggested that the call was simply a misdial as the number was only a few away from the Department of Criminal Justice Services’ number, which was dialed only a minute later. Furthermore, the phone was also used by executive director of the New York Prosecutors Training Institute.

Now Herman Cain is facing the music and the attacks coming from all different directions. Whether or not he is guilty is not really the question to ask. The real question is whether or not this smear campaign against Cain will keep him from ever seeing the Oval Office from behind the President’s desk. The answer will come to light soon, but many political experts are confident that the seriousness of the accusations against him, coupled by his seemingly awkward response has put the final nails in his political coffin.

Smear campaigns can be very effective, regardless of the legitimacy of the claims. While voters would rather simply focus on the political issues at hand, they can’t help but hear the rumors and accusations on the news and very often are influenced on the ballots.

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About Elaine Hirsch 5 Articles
Elaine Hirsch is a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. She is currently working as a writer for various education-related websites and writing about relevant education-related issues.

1 Comment

  1. “Whether or not he is guilty is not really the question to ask.” What? You’d think this was a valid question.

    Your post makes it sound like putting past actions of a presidential candidate under scrutiny automatically constitutes a smear campaign.

    In Cain’s case specifically, your post makes it sound like the women who have come forward with claims of molestations are part of a smear campaign. You offer no proof for this.

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