For a long time, negative campaigning was seen as the heart of U.S. election campaigns. Political consultant Dick Morris has recently argued, however, that negative ads are losing their impact in U.S. campaigns. Voters have seen so many of them that they have become increasingly cynical and unreceptive to them. The last U.S. presidential elections are a good example for this. Hillary Clinton and her allies invested a lot of time and money into defining Donald Trump and rising his negative ratings. Yet, he triumphed on election day.
In many European countries, on the other hand, my experience suggests that negative campaigning has never been more effective than today. Here, negative campaigns are less straightforward, and they are not carried out through attack ads. Negative campaigns are mostly played out via the media. I think that social media also has a lot to do with it. People are now very rapidly scandalized and outraged about things – and social media gives them a tool to be vocal about it. The reaction of the accused politician is often to step down. As we have seen recently in Britain, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, political careers can end abruptly within a few weeks. This said, I am waiting for the trend to change and for more politicians to withstand or even counter a wave of negative press coverage in Europe as well.