We all know the formula that 40% of the population will vote Republican no matter what, 40% of the population will vote Democratic no matter what, and the 20% in the middle are the squishes who decide elections (if “squishes” doesn’t work for you, think “Reagan Democrats” or “Clinton Republicans”).

As such, there are three kinds of issue ads (or attack ads, it’s all good)…

1) Ads that really get your base all fired up and saying “I can’t wait to vote on election day!!!”

2) Ads that really get the other guy’s base all depressed and feeling like they really should just stay home on election day, or that they ought to take a principled stance and vote for a 3rd Party when they go in to vote for dogcatcher and a handful of ballot initiatives.

3) Ads that make the squishes in the middle vote for your guy (or against the other guy).

A perfect ad, therefore, would be one that riles up your base, depresses the opponents, and gets the folks in the middle to vote for your guy.

Two ads that come to mind are Johnson’s “Daisy” ad from 1964 and Reagan’s “Bear” ad from 1984.

Now, less effective attacks are attacks that, say, get your base riled up but also get the other guys base riled up (or, heaven forfend, get your base riled up while, at the same time, pissing off the folks in the middle and getting the other guy’s base riled up). Michael Moore excels at those attacks. Much beloved by the base, much reviled by anyone not part of it. This is why he does more harm than good… because, sure, he gets the base riled up… but now he’s part of campaign ads, now he’s a reason that squishes in the middle vote Republican rather than Democratic because they were so turned off by Moore’s stuff.

Bush makes a great counterpoint as he did a great job of saying stuff that really got his base going, infuriated the other side… and got the necessary votes in the middle to say “I’m going to vote for Bush”.

“Bring it on!” is a great example of this. There are hundreds of others. Thousands.

So ask yourself before you make any given attack “who is my intended target audience?”

1) Are you trying to get your guys to get out there and Rock The Vote?2) Are you trying to get the other guys to vote 3rd Party (or stay home)?3) Are you trying to make undecideds decide in favor of your guy?

Because if your attack succeeds at 1 and spectacularly fails at 2 and 3, your goals will be more likely to be met if you instead take a walk around the block and enjoy a cigarette or two than if you get 1 voter to show up for your guy and 2 to show up for the other guy.