Attack Politics

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Denison University presents "Attack Politics" by Emmett H. Jr. Buell.

Ask most Americans, and they'll tell you that presidential campaigns get dirtier and more negative with every election. But Emmett Buell and Lee Sigelman suggest that may not be as true as we think. From Jimmy Carter's use of "fear arousal" in attacking Ronald Reagan to George Bush's allusions to the "L word" to disparage Michael Dukakis's liberalism, Buell and Sigelman show how, over the last dozen elections, negativity may have been well publicized but hasn't increased-and that John Kennedy waged the most negative campaign of all.Buell and Sigelman focus on both presidential and vice-presidential nominees as sources and targets of attacks and also examine the actions of surrogate campaigners like the Swift Boat Vets. Drawing on the New York Times as a research base-more than 17,000 campaign statements extracted from nearly 11,000 news items-they provide a more comprehensive assessment of negativity than anything previously attempted. Beginning in 1960, Buell and Sigelman categorize campaigns according to their level of competitiveness-from runaways like 1964 to dead heats like 2000 and 2004-to demonstrate how candidates go negative as circumstances warrant or permit. They break down negativity into different components, showing who attacked whom, how frequently, on what issues, how they did it, and at what point in the campaign. They also compare their findings with previously published accounts of these campaigns-including first-hand accounts by candidates and their confidants. And, as an added bonus, each chapter features "echoes from the campaign trail" that reflect the invective exchanged by rival campaigns. Attack Politics pins down much about negative campaigning that has previously been speculated on but never subjected to such systematic research. It offers the best overview yet of modern presidential races and is must reading for anyone interested in the vagaries of those campaigns.