Researchers who use human subjects in testing have standards. First among them is consent. That is, unlike actual guinea pigs, humans must know they are being studied and must agree to be test subjects.
So why weren’t the voters of the 27th Legislative District asked before being enclosed in a giant petri dish to measure the effects of negative campaigning?
Not that it isn’t an interesting research subject. Hundreds of political scientists have made tenure finding evidence that negative campaigns work, or don’t work, or work under certain circumstances, or don’t work in months that end in “r.” Despite it all, no one is certain whether all that money and all that bile is worth it.
So, consent aside, the voters of the 27th will at least be doing a public service in measuring whether a massive negative ad blitz can move enough numbers to turn defeat into victory. The North Tacoma-based 27th is where Jeannie Darneille and Jack Connelly are competing to replace longtime state Sen. Debbie Regala. Darneille has represented the district in the House since 2001. Connelly is a successful tort lawyer who has served on a number of boards and commissions.
It is common for candidates of different parties to dislike each other. But this race shows how candidates from the same party can do the same. The 27th is the eighth-most-Democratic district in the state, based on voting histories compiled by the Washington State Redistricting Commission. With Connelly and Darneille both filing as “prefers Democratic Party,” voters won’t be able to rely on party ID as a cue.
In the primary election, Darneille bested Connelly 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent. That means that Connelly’s campaign had more yard signs than votes. OK, that’s an exaggeration – sort of. But the-not-exactly-close result came despite Connelly putting $410,000 in personal funds into a campaign that featured a combination of positive and negative messages to voters … and a gazillion yard signs.
That’s a pretty sizeable deficit. And despite what some pollsters say, I think the primary election is a good predictor of the general election. Without some effort to change the dynamics, it is very likely that the general election would have a similar result.
There was some speculation that Connelly would stand down, deciding against engaging in the accepted method to close the gap – an all-out attack on Darneille. Instead, he appears to be doubling down by putting in more of his own money to bring the total to $570,000, with more likely to come.
Cable TV ads, mailers and robocalls have begun in earnest, accusing Darneille of being soft on crime, weak on education and mean to small furry animals.
OK, I made up that last one. But you get the point (and don’t rule out a mean-to-small-furry-animals robocall).
Surrogates for Darneille, including a barely independent expenditure campaign, have returned fire. It has gotten to the point where, with still a month left in the campaign, we can’t run the charges and counter-charges through our Smell Test fast enough. By the time we finish with one ad, four more have popped up.
This might skew the results of the experiment, but I feel obligated to give beleaguered voters a tip. If you want the mail and the calls and the knocks on the door to stop, mail your ballot as soon as you can. Campaigns get updates from the elections department that list which voters have voted and they stop bothering them.
The rest of you in the 27th can take comfort in the fact that you are furthering social and political science by suffering through the barrage. By Nov. 6, you will determine whether negative campaigning can close an eight-point deficit.
It will take many months after that, however, to measure the damage such a campaign has done to the winner because you can’t fling mud without a bunch of it sticking to your hands.
Thanks to you, I foresee at least a master’s thesis out of this race, if not a doctoral degree.Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @CallaghanPeter