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On the Attack for the Campaign

How much of a political ad is substance, and how much is bickering? Patch is here to help you visualize the answer.


With the final presidential debate having taken place Monday night and Election Day now less than two weeks away, winners of all the various races taking place across the city and state will soon be decided. But more importantly, Election Day means, finally, an end to the political attack ad.

It's an interesting dynamic, the political attack ad. A candidate must vie for position amongst the public not just by building themselves up in the voter's eye, but by also diminishing the standing of his or her opponent.

Stamford Democratic City Committee Chair John Mallozzi said putting the faults of an opponent on display is almost as important as explaining why a candidate feels they are best.

"Ads like that are about stressing both things," he said. "You must say what you stand for or what your plan is, but also point out what opponents faults are. You can't base a campaign on what you're going to do, but also why your plan is better and why your opponent can't do what they say they will. It's advertising. Three out of four dentists recommend this because of that. There has to be a comparison."

While an ad campaign might be understandable and encouraged, what about when campaigns get carried away? What level of attacking one's opponent is excusable and who would even be able to make that distinction? It's a subjective measurement. However, there are tangible things one can measure to gain a sense of what a campaigns priority might be.

Could the argument be made that talking about an opponent more than one's self is talking too much about the other? An informal experiment was conducted to test just how often two candidates for one of the more contentious races in recent memory spoke about each other: Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon.

The bid for the United States Senate seat is being contested by former U.S. Congressman Murphy and business-savvy former WWE CEO McMahon. The race has been hot and vocal.

Only one of their names needs to be searched in email archives to receive roughly all of both campaign's releases, they talk about each other so often. Five from each house were selected at random for the test. One was selected from the finalists for a hand count and then all five were filtered through a word cloud generator.

The results are overwhelming. For Murphy, in a campaign statement released entitled "SHOCKING DEBATE ADMISSION: McMahon Won't Discuss Social Security Specifics on Campaign Trail to Avoid Disclosing Her Right-Wing Republican Plans," with four (!) subheads, Murphy's camp mentions McMahon directly or through pronouns like "she" or "her" 41 times. Murphy's name is mentioned twice.

Not to be outdone without a fight, McMahon, in a statement released entitled "Chris Murphy Does Not Respect Women in The Workplace," with only a single subhead, her camp manages to mention Murphy directly or by the pronouns "he" or "his" 36 times. She manages to squeeze in six mentions of herself. 

The results of the word cloud test confirm more of the same. By an outstanding margin, the political rival's name is used more often than any other talking point in each of the releases tested, and completely overshadowed any mentions of their own names.

"If someone accuses you of something, you can't just let it go. You have to respond," Mallozzi said. "If you don't the public will assume the slander is true. Then it begins to escalate. Rather, deteriorates. People get discouraged when a campaign comes to that point. Candidates think they can't just respond, but also put the other person on the defensive, too. Every campaign takes on a different life. Not every campaign lives the same life. What I'm saying is, you can't throw stones or someone's going to pick it up and throw it back."

So, when this election season is over, voting day won't just end political ads. It will just bring temporary relief to the phenomenon of grownups talking about each other. On November 7th, finally, everyone will get to put down their stones.

 -- Eds. Note: The Stamford RTC was contacted and declined to comment on the story.

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