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3 strategies to combat negative campaign issues

Posted October. 25, 2012 04:11,   


Negative campaign issues tend to snowball when candidates try to contain them.

Though experts advise a variety of response strategies such as ignorance, rebuttal or voter immunization, the camps of presidential candidates are agonizing over their lack of a field manual applicable to all situations.

The strategy of ignorance is useful when a popular candidate responds to attacks from minor candidates because it is not in his or her interest to show a reaction by paying attention to such figures. The ruling Saenuri Party seldom responds to offensives from minor parties against its presidential candidate Park Geun-hye as part of this strategy. Yet this approach is ineffective between leading candidates in a neck-and-neck race because the wrong timing in showing a response could lead to a bigger disaster.

Rebutting an unfavorable argument by negating it and retaliating against the rival who raised the issue is a typical response. Rebuttal, however, often does not work effectively toward the end of a campaign period because an election could come before the truth is confirmed.

In the 2002 presidential election, a former military service broker claimed that the son of Lee Hoi-chang, the candidate of the then ruling New Korea Party, the predecessor of Saenuri who was leading in the polls, had weaseled his way out of mandatory military service. The Supreme Court later ruled the allegation was false, but the election had ended when the ruling came out.

A bigger problem is that a rebuttal could put a candidate in a trap set up by a rival. The ruling party has been attacking its main opposition rival Democratic United Party over the allegation that former President Roh Moo-hyun in 2007 talked of giving up the Northern Limit Line, the de facto sea border with North Korea. The opposition party hit back by releasing Roh’s comments and past media reports related with his alleged words, but has yet to make a breakthrough in the framework set up by Saenuri.

The voter immunization strategy involves making potentially unfavorable confessions ahead of time to mitigate negative impact. This is akin to a candidate getting a flu vaccine by admitting to potentially negative issues involving him or her before a campaign goes into full swing.

Yet such a confession could backfire. Ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye’s expressed her position over a controversy involving a scholarship foundation that she was once a part of. After admitting that she was not fully aware of a previous court ruling on the case, this was an opportunity for the opposition party to attack her.

While such strategies are effective to a certain extent, they do have limits and so candidates need more active solutions. Kim Moo-gon, dean of the Graduate School of Communication and Information at Dongguk University, said, “The best way to respond to negative campaigning is for a party to form a cooperative system to ensure fair public information immediately.”