2012: Why Go Negative?

Dear Reader,

Iowa.  Speaker Gingrich: went positive.  Governor Romney: went negative.  Romney beat Gingrich.

New Hampshire:  Romney started to focus on President Obama, Gingrich attacked.  Romney still won... but...

South Carolina:  Gingrich continued the Attack.  Romney focused more on President Obama.  Gingrich won by a large margin.

Florida:  Gingrich continued the attack, but Romney started to attack Gingrich.  Now we get "Fading Gingrich..." and President Obama is doing well in polls.

It seems, based just on this brief history, that there is a lesson:  when one of the candidates tries to shift to a positive message, and the other candidate attacks, the attacker wins the public argument.  Of course, it is yet to be seen how damaging these Republican-on-Republican attacks will be in the general election, but it seems quite likely that the President will make good use of them. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a candidate's dilemma!

                               Attack Obama    Attack Gingrich

Attack Obama              8,10                       0,20

Attack Romney            16, 0                       2,3

Newt Gingrich is the row player here and Mitt Romney is the column player.*  The payoffs are (row, col).

Generally speaking, I think Gingrich had 'less' chance when the strategies matched --- i.e., he's a weaker candidate, with less money and less establishment support - but the main point is that both Gingrich and Romney had a better chance against Obama if they stuck to attacking the President rather than attacking each other.  Nevertheless, if one candidate played nice and the other went negative, the candidate with the negative ads would win the nomination for sure and so have a much better chance of being elected president (hence, the higher payoff).  Using the usual PD logic, they both reason that they are strictly better off attacking, and end up in the state where they both attack each other and President Obama enjoys his laugh.  The equilibrium is: the race is nasty.

Just a thought...

--- Stag Staff

 

*This was reversed in a previous version of this article.