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Do election attack ads work?

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Expect to hear more attack ads over the next few months, leading up to the provincial election on May 14th.

As much as people complain about negative political ads, one expert says they are effective.

“They do have a limit,” admits Dennis Pilon, associate professor of political science at York University. “We’ve seen in the past where people are fed up with a government, no amount of attack ads is going to turn the tide.”

A group supporting the BC Liberals has released a radio ad, reminding voters about the NDP’s fast ferries project and other issues from the 1990s, including Adrian Dix‘s resignation from the premier’s office during a police investigation of Glen Clark.

Pilon says the ads are very effective in reinforcing ideas that people already believe to be true about a political party, and they can also influence the all-important undecided voter.

“I think they can be very effective,” he tells us. “And the decision that those voters have to make is: ‘Wow, okay, the NDP were responsible for those things. Hmm, I don’t know how happy I am, or unhappy I am, about that. Is it worse than sticking with the Liberals and what I’m unhappy with them about?'”

But he points out the Liberal-friendly ad is covering old material and that might weaken its effectiveness. “These are the same things the Liberals have said about the NDP since 1996-on.”

Like them or hate them, Pilon says attack ads are here to stay. “That’s the problem with this game. Once somebody starts to play it, everybody has to play it.”

“You can’t role over about the things that are being said,” he adds. “You’ve got to be quite vigorous about the things that are being said about you.”

“You definitely can’t take the high road.  That’s not the way the game is played.”