Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, August 7, 1996


Negative advertising in
mayoral race

WHAT started on the mainland and was used sparingly in Hawaii now looks like the weapon of choice in this year's mayor's race.

From all indications the three candidates, incumbent Jeremy Harris and challengers Arnold Morgado and Frank Fasi, are willing to wage a war of attrition across the tube this summer.

All candidates take polls in varying degrees of sophistication. Polls may start with surveys around the dinner table and escalate to full-blown $50,000 professionally designed and conducted measurements. Politicians constantly search for what the majority wants.

This year Harris, Morgado and Fasi have discovered the same thing that the recent Star-Bulletin poll found: Honolulu is worried about crime.

Our poll also showed that voters in Honolulu want police to spend more time busting juvenile delinquents, more effort into stopping violent crime and more diligence in stopping domestic abuse.

The public wasn't looking for an across-the-board crackdown, however, as suggestions to stop prostitution and traffic violations were not met with much interest.

The poll showed that a candidate's integrity was the number one issue, followed closely by the candidate's concern about controlling crime.

A positive campaign looking to take advantage of those poll results would sympathize with the victims of crime and pledge increased help. Candidates could suggest hiring more police, building more prisons, treating the underlying causes of crimes, from education to poverty.

A "win ugly" campaign, on the other hand, would feature a candidate saying his opponents are either lying about his record on crime or refusing to do anything about crime in Honolulu.

Part of running a negative campaign is issuing the denials that your campaign is negative. All three major candidates have been roughing each other up. Of course, Harris has been getting more than most because he has such a commanding lead in the polls.

But Fasi and Morgado also will find themselves under attack. For instance, after Morgado attacked Harris, saying he was at fault for not increasing the police budget, Harris came back with an ad saying Morgado cut the budget when he was City Council chairman.

What happens when candidates run campaigns dedicated to proving that their opponents are jerks is that voters just stay home.

IN a book issued last year, "Going Negative: How Campaign Advertising Shrinks and Polarizes the Electorates," authors Shanto Iyengar and Stephen Ansolabehere show that the negative campaign is far more destructive than either the media or the candidates realize.

"The danger posed by campaign advertising is not one of deception or manipulation . . . rather the real threat posed by political advertising to democratic functioning is the systematic demobilization of voters," the pair wrote.

Specifically, they found that negative ads keep people from voting. You don't win voters, you don't get more support, you blast away voters.

The person left standing wins.

Do it enough and the candidates will be the only ones interested in the race.



The Star-Bulletin Poll ran on the following dates:
[July 29], [July 30], [July 31], [August 1], [August 2]
and is available through these links to our back issues.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics on Wednesday.
Write him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080,
Honolulu, 96802 or send e-mail to rborreca@pixi.com.




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