Saenuri Party Democratic United Party presidential candidate presidential candidate Park Geun-hye Moon Jae-in
Nuts and bolts of negative campaigning
By Jung Min-ho
As the Dec. 19 presidential campaigning is entering its final stretch, mudslinging and smear tactics between two major candidates are reaching fever pitch.
As a result, some voters turn cynical and become disenchanted.
One U.S. scholar sounds an alarm, saying that it is exactly what they aim for by going negative.
"Negative campaigning doesn't necessarily gain a cadidate many voters but rather intends to cost the other side voters in part by encouraging them not to vote at all," Timothy S. Rich, a political science professor at Western Kentuky University, said.
Rich noted that the implicit goal of such campaigning is to demobilize the opponents' base instead of winning voters, or at the very least make it more costly and time consuming to get weak supporters to come out.
With the election just around the corner, the Democratic United Party (DUP) upped the ante with attacks against Park, the ruling Saenuri Party candidate, and has been feistier in defending accusations thrown its way as well.
"Former DUP lawmaker Han Hwa-gap, who announced his backing for Park, said his support will bring development to North and South Jeolla provinces. That implies there might have been a backdoor political deal between Park and Han," DUP spokesman Park Yong-jin said on Dec. 7. "Park made false accusations against Moon during the first televised debate, saying the DUP agreed with other liberal parties on abrogating the alliance with the U.S. for the unified candidacy. We urge Park to be held accountable for the lies and to apologize to us in public."
The Saenuri Party isn't shy about dishing bile in the direction of Moon. Park's camp now accuses Moon of evading taxes on real estate gains and using his political strings to land a comfy job for his son.
According to party officials, the real value of an apartment Moon purchased in Busan in 2004 was higher than amount he put on the contract and claimed he was attempting to dodge taxes.
Moon denied the accusations and the Saenuri Party failed to follow up with credible evidence. However, the damage to Moon's image was already done.
How to maximize its impact
So if the presidential camps can't avoid negative campaigns in the heat of the race, what is the best way to maximize their impact?
Rich advised that attacking policies is likely to hurt opponent's popularity more than aiming at ethics. Aiming at the public persona of the opponent is also a good strategy.
"In terms of swaying voters, negative ads have to hit on an issue in which voters were already predisposed to be unfavorable to a candidate. For example, the general image of Mitt Romney being a wealthy businessman and arguably having difficulty connecting to middle class made it far easier for Barak Obama and supporters to run negative ads about Romney being out of touch," Rich said.
"George W. Bush did not have to do much to frame John Kerry as aloof (a common perception even before the election), both quoting his own words for attack ads but also questioning his leadership due to his protests after returning from service from Vietnam. But ironically, neither Bush nor Dick Cheney served in Vietnam."
National security vs. memory of dictator
With little difference in their respective policies, the two Korean candidates have resorted to concentrating attacks on their opponent's chronically vulnerable points - national security issues concerning North Korea for Moon and memories of the late strongman Park Chung-hee, the Saenuri Party candidate's father.
Though many criticize both contenders for sparing the major part of their campaigns for attacking their rival with fossilized issues rather than talking about policies, there seems to be no end of the fracas in sight.
In the first televised debate on Dec. 4, Park said "real peace" has to be maintained based on trust between North and South Korea, hammering at Moon's policies concerning North Korea that she said "pumping money into the North" would not guarantee real peace over the Korean Peninsula.
"Under the late President Roh Moo-hyun's leadership, despite our massive aid, North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb test. I think that's fake peace," Park said.
She also brought up the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas, questioning Moon's flip-flopping on the issue.
"During the 2007 defense ministers' meeting between the two Koreas, candidate Moon criticized the South Korean minister for being too rigid in negotiations. The minister was then insisting that the NLL must be respected as a border and I'm concerned whether you feel the need to change it. Candidate Moon changed his stance on the NLL recently and said it was effectively the maritime border, but I find it hard to trust you," Park said.
Moon and his associates have persistently pounced on Park's "distorted" historical views and her defense of her father, who ruled the country for 18 years after taking power through a military coup in 1961.
More recently, when the Saenuri Party announced on Dec. 7 that Park will appear on the cover of Time magazine's Asia Edition on Dec. 17 with the title, "The Strongman's Daughter," the DUP highlighted it as saying "As Time clarified it, he is the very man who usurped government power."
"Judgment day is coming for Park Chung-hee, who violated the constitutional government with guns, and Park Guen-hye, who inherited his DNA," DUP spokesman Kim Young-geun said on Dec. 8.
The liberal party has also criticized the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, established by the late president in 1962, claiming that the late dictator took it over in an unjustified manner and the candidate still wields profound clout over the organization even after she stepped down as chairwoman in 2005.
Falldown of popular Michael Dukakis
Regarding negative campaigning, the 1988 U.S. presidential election is often used as strong case for turning an election. George W. H. Bush of the Republican Party won after creating a negative impression of his opponent Michael Dukakis that he was an unreasonable left-winger who is soft on national security issues. The Republican Party strategically concentrated their attacks on the issue to arouse public fear as they highlighted rumors that the Democratic Party candidate's wife had burned the national flag to protest the Vietnam War. With other well-honed attacks on the issue, including a game-changing ad that ridiculed Dukakis' image on a tank, Bush became the 41st president of the U.S. after an election in which political issues and polices were barely discussed.
Dilemma of negative campaigning
The dilemma of negative campaigning, which makes both candidates look bad, is that they still have to respond properly to protect their respective poll numbers. Referring to the downfall of the Dukakis's campaign the 42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton stated that he learned (Dukakis didn't effectively respond to the attacks).
"The conventional wisdom lately has been to respond quickly, either denouncing the attack or clarifying how the opponent was incorrect. Often the responses aren't particularly strong, but the goal appears to prevent your opponent from monopolizing the issue or framing the election about a particular weakness," Rich said. "I would recommend trying to frame any response as taking the high road, while letting the party or other organizations favorable to the campaign respond with a heavier counterattack."