8 Questions

Dan Balz on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

Question 7: Will attacks or positive messaging persuade undecided voters to support Obama?

Obama’s campaign has been on the attack all summer — in its advertising, its messages of the day, its conference calls and its tweets — in an effort to disqualify Romney as an alternative. Republicans say that’s because Obama can’t defend his economic record and has nothing of note to be positive about.

Voters say they dislike negative ads but studies show that people process the information in those commercials quickly and often get valuable information from them. Voters dislike the worst of the ads they see, particularly those that are too personal. But contrast ads can do more to move voters than personal attacks or purely positive ads.

Still, undecided independent voters are turned off by the discord in Washington and the negative tone of politics generally. Obama has been effective in drawing contrasts with what Romney has advocated, but can’t risk losing his advantage on likability. As one Democrat put it, “His largest asset four years ago was being thought of above politics and truly post-partisan. He needs to recapture some of that notion and leave the hard-hitting stuff to others.”