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Why so many attack ads? History says they work

A history professor told 13News negative political ads are nothing new.

INDIANAPOLIS — There's no escaping them, all the nasty political ads running non-stop. 

Many people are saying enough already. And while people profess they don't like the ads, Ted Franz says "If they didn't work, the candidates wouldn't spend so much money on them." 

Franz, a history professor at University of Indianapolis, said political ads need to be memorable, and that negative ads that somehow "connect with the beliefs someone has about a candidate is what tends to be memorable."

He's quick to point out that attack ads are nothing new. 

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used the infamous "Daisy" ad to paint Republican rival Barry Goldwater as unhinged and dangerous. The ad aired just once.  

"It was viewed as so over the top, not something to view again and again," Franz said. 

And yet attack ads became the norm. But as history shows, campaigns never needed TV to go negative. 

Franz said campaigns were especially vicious during Reconstruction. He points to the 1884 election, when Grover Cleveland was alleged to have fathered a child out of wedlock, prompting the chants, "Ma, ma where's my pa?" and "Gone to the White House ha, ha, ha."

Franz said negative ads can backfire, but "It's hard to imagine an ad right now being so negative it would turn people off, especially in the last week of the campaign."

But there is hope.  

Chris Peterson and Spencer Fox, the two men running against each other for governor of Utah, did an ad together saying they can "debate issues without degrading each others character," and "can disagree without hating each other."  

They said win or lose, they both will work together for Utah.


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