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Voters turned off by negative campaign ads
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Election 2008, more local and state election coverage.

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On the Issues: Where the candidates stand

Our Views: The quest for leaders

Two days. Two days and it will all be over.

For more than a year, Americans have been tuning in to watch presidential hopefuls fight for the top office, and have seen all the finger-pointing and mudslinging that goes along with it.

As the campaign season comes to a close, the candidates’ attacks have become more frequent, more aggressive and more personal.

And many Hall County voters say they have had enough of all the negative campaign ads.

"I despise it," said Dick Williamson. "I don’t even look at them or watch them."

Williamson said he wishes more money was spent on positive, informative advertising about the candidates.

Kristen Martin said the attack ads do more harm than good because they are confusing and make both candidates look bad.

"It’s hard to decide who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy," she said. "They’re trying to use scare tactics and it does make kind of a difference. That makes me nervous. ...Who knows who to trust?"

Audrey Haynes, an associate professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said negative campaigning is more frequent toward the end of a political race.

"Usually at the start of the campaign, the candidates begin with their ‘get to know me’ ads. These are always positive," Haynes said in an e-mail.

Haynes said as the race goes on, the candidates figure out which issues are their strongest and what their competitors’ weaknesses are and try to point them out to voters.

"They lay out their strategies and begin the negative ads that are called comparative ads. Comparisons are inherently negative. ‘My stance is better than his stance.’ Even if you do not say it directly, it is implied that the other guy’s stance is not good," Haynes said.

The underdog usually instigates all the negativity in an effort to weaken the leading candidate, she said.

"The runner-up is behind. He cannot generate more votes unless he takes some away from the leader (and sometimes appeals to those who have yet to decide). The most common means to do this is to go negative in more than the comparative. You start using words like ‘risky,’ ‘unproven,’ these are typical," Haynes said. "Of course, the leading candidate, when attacked, now has some motivation to respond. And generally they do because if they do not, they look weak. This leads to the appearance of both campaigns going negative, but it is usually driven by the candidate or candidates who are behind."

Haynes said this is true in this year’s presidential race, as Sen. John McCain has more negative ads than Sen. Barack Obama.

"Strategically, (McCain) has been behind in the national polls and behind in most of the state polls. He has more because he is losing and negative ads are generally the tool of those candidates who are behind in their efforts to pull some of the leading candidate’s support away," Haynes said.

In swing states, both presidential candidates are putting a lot of their efforts into attack ads.

But even after all the resources spent on negative advertising, many voters say the ads haven’t affected their decision.

"I don’t pay attention to them," said Billy Duncan. "You got to research stuff real good and pray about it."

Lisa and Doug Brady said they don’t think the candidates attacking each other accomplishes anything.

"I think it’s pretty tacky," Lisa Brady said. " I don’t think they should be able to bash each other at all. It should be more about what they’re doing and what their plans are."

Doug Brady added that the attacks were childish.

"It’s like a bunch of 5-year-olds making fun of each other on the playground," Doug Brady said.

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