I've spent a lot of time puzzling over the Iowa results. The twin collapse of both Gephardt and Dean was really unprecedented. When was the last time in modern political history that the two front runners 8 days before an election -- in any race -- ended up finishing a distant 3rd and 4th behind two campaigns that had been left for dead?
On January 12, 8 days before the election, the Zogby tracking poll in Iowa showed the following:
The final results, 5 days later:
Taken collectively, the front runners bled an amazing 22 points in 8 days. That's just staggering.
Campaigns that run negative ads have always paid some price - usually increasing their negatives somewhat. And we all know Gephardt and Dean went after each other like dogs on the airwaves - but that's not a new campaign technique. There has to be more to the story, because this collapse was just too big.
So it got me to thinking - what was different about this year? A thought occurred to me this week watching the US Senate primary ads here in Illinois.
In the past, if you were running a negative campaign, you could keep your profile low by keeping your disclaimer line & picture small and hard to read.
Now, under the new campaign finance laws, a candidate must appear in every advertisement and state to the camera that they approved the content of the ad. Even negative ads.
Voters hate negative advertising, but it works. It moves numbers.
Part of this has always been explained by the fact that, for whatever reason, voters seldom connected the producer of the ad with their distaste for the negative campaigning tactic.
The Iowa results seem to indicate that this may be changing. By actively appearing in their ads and approving the content, it may be that candidates are now being held more accountable for the negative ads they produce.
If this is the case, it could turn the assumptions about this race on its head.
If voters are now going to punish voters for negative ads they run, then it impacts how Bush effectively spends his $200 million Bush campaign budget -efforts to use paid media to rip apart the Dem nominee could be counter-productive (and vice-versa)
It also threatens a ripple effect on negative ads in every house and senate race in the country.
It's hard to say which side gets hurt more by this. But taken with the changes brought about by the Dean revolution, 2004 may well be seen as a turning point in the way campaigns are run.
Anyway, it's just a theory.