As of this past Tuesday I’m officially an empty nester, but should I miss the dialogue of squabbling adolescents I need only turn to my inbox and peruse communications from Connecticut’s two political parties.

A recent example from the Connecticut Democrats:


Hartford — With Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss yesterday, the Tea Party has been given a big shot in the arm. Written off as dead as recently as a few weeks ago, they’re very much alive, and not just in Virginia. Last night on Twitter, David Walker — also known as “@DeficitRanger” — recognized the forces that propelled Dave Brat to a primary victory over Cantor:

The question now is, where does Mr. Walker’s running mate, John McKinney, stand on the Tea Party? Previously, even as Republican leaders in Washington have disavowed the Tea Party, GOP gubernatorial candidates in Connecticut have not. John McKinney, specifically, has told the Quiet Corner Tea Party Patriots that he would repeal Connecticut’s smart, tough, common sense gun law.

Does Mr. McKinney support those who ousted Eric Cantor? After barely reaching 15 percent of delegate support at the Republican convention, is he vying for the Tea Party’s backing? Does he align himself with the far-right and seek their support?

I saw that tweet, too. To a non-flack it doesn’t read as “support” of the Tea Party, but rather an “observation” of an election result that surprised many — particularly Beltway flacks. Making such a pathetic stretch is an insult to the intelligence of voters. Seriously, do you think we’re that stupid?

But before Connecticut Republicans start getting smug, I give you this:

“We understand that Governor Malloy needs to raise money because he is behind in his race for re-election, but bringing former President Clinton here is a risky move. President Clinton insulted his wife and the American people by having an extramarital affair with a very young intern. This affair was conducted at least partly in the Oval Office when the president was supposed to be on the job serving the American people. We’d like to know if by bringing president Clinton here, Governor Malloy is condoning the president’s behavior in office.”

Hello, Connecticut GOP, this is the 1990’s calling. If this is the best you can do in terms of issues, you’ve got serious problems in November. Also, here are a few names for you: Gov. Mark Sanford, Republican presidential candidates Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, Rep. Mark Foley, Sen. Larry Craig, Sen. Dave Vitter. . .

Pots, meet the Kettle.

Yesterday, Politico’s James Hohmann wrote about the battle for control of the Senate after interviewing two dozen top political operatives and campaign aides from both parties.

These operatives worry that “both parties’ turnout operations could be critical because the avalanche of TV ads is fueling concern that voters will simply tune them out. One recent GOP focus group in North Carolina showed voters are disgusted by incessant negativity on the airwaves.”

The North Carolina focus group picked up on what most flacks don’t seem to get. Here’s Democratic strategist Paul Begala writing in 2012 on “Why we need more negative political ads”:

“Truth is, negative advertising is not some evil or nefarious practice. In fact, when I contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008, I wrote on the check: ‘For Negative Ads Only.’ I love negative ads. When I see a positive ad, even one from a candidate I support, my reaction often ranges from bored to annoyed. But show me a negative ad — even one against a candidate I support — and my blood starts to race. What can I say? I’d much rather eat picante sauce than chocolate.”

Personally, I prefer chocolate. Maybe that explains why I write books for young people rather than work in politics. Or perhaps, like the folks who write press releases for Connecticut Republicans, Paul Begala is stuck in the 1990’s. Because, as focus groups conducted in North Carolina and Iowa earlier this year made clear, they want the negative attack ads to stop. Voters are sick of being treated “like an idiot.”

But outside groups wouldn’t be spending such outrageous sums of money on negative ads unless they work, right?

The impact of negative ads has been the subject of great debate among academic researchers. Past studies have suggested that negative advertising has little affect on voter participation. According to Erika Franklin Fowler, Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, the research also shows that “there is a higher net persuasive effect when the negative ad is run by an outside group because it shields the candidate from negative backlash.”

More recent studies, like the research of Assistant Professor of Political Science Yanna Krupnikov at Northwestern University, suggest that the timing of negative advertising matters. Krupnikov’s study was titled, When Does Negativity Demobilize? Tracing the Conditional Effect of Negative Campaigning on Voter Turnout.

While negative ads viewed by undecided citizens help to persuade, Krupnikov’s research suggests “the voters who may initially seem immovable — may be just as malleable as the undecided. Simply making a decision does not mean an individual will act on this selection.” For decided voters, “exposure to negativity after selection can derail action by convincing individuals that their selection is no better than the alternative they already know they do not like.”

In other words, too much negative advertising and you risk ending up with the “a plague on both your houses” effect.

The Krupnikov studies were dated 2011 and 2012 — in other words, we’d only just begun to feel the impact of the Citizens United decision. This year it’s a different story.

There are two things going on, explains Wesleyan Media Project’s Fowler. “One, ads are empirically more negative, everywhere. Since this project has been tracking . . . over the last decade we have seen ads get more negative. Secondly, it’s the volume. We talked about 2012 as being a pulverizing election and we’re still seeing an increase over that so far this cycle. The increase in volume and in proportion of negativity makes it feel a whole lot more negative.”

“The irony is that the more political ads air on TV, the more voters tune them out,” Mark McKinnon, a veteran Republican strategist and ad maker told the New York Times. “It just becomes a white noise. The return on investment is absurd.”

Thanks, SCOTUS.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

Sarah Darer Littman is a critically-acclaimed author of books for young people. Her latest novel, Some Kind of Hate, comes out Nov. 1 from Scholastic Press.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.