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Scare Campaign

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Tony Blair's three priorities: Education, education, YOUR SOUL.

"What you do in advertising is you get your can of soup, and you hold it up to the audience and say 'It tastes great, it's full of iron, fiber and vitamins, you should buy some'. What we do in politics is hold up the other guys' can of soup and say 'It's poison, it'll kill you!'"
Petro Georgiou, quoted on Gruen Nation

A Scare Campaign is a political advertising campaign based around the terrible things that the other party or candidate will do if they get into/retain power. This is based around the idea that a voter who is on the fence is more likely to believe negative messages about one's opponent than positive messages about oneself. Studies have shown this to be one of the most effective types of political campaigns (though its effectiveness may have started to decline extremely recently). For obvious reasons, this kind of campaign works better in countries with only two (relevant) parties. In a country with — say — five parties that have a legitimate shot at getting enough votes to matter, the reaction to a candidate of party D tearing down Party A and vice versa will probably be: Well, I'll take party C then.

Naturally, political candidates will believe that many of their opponents' policies are wrong; that's why they're opponents. And in some sense, tearing down the opponent's position is just as important as building up your own. But let's face it: the vast majority of Scare Campaigns are about creating fear rather than debating. Most of them are based on wild conjecture, playing up a candidate's links to "bad people" no matter how tenuous, and sometimes just plain lies. Even when a valid point is made, expect the same creepy scary music and disturbing voiceover. This may even extend to Deliberately Monochrome techniques in the case of outrageous claims.

Outside of the realm of politics, this is known as "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" or FUD. This is often seen as Established Company Y spending more time telling consumers how Startup Company X's competing product will cost money/customers/health, rather than how their own products generate money/customers/health.

However, as mentioned in the page quote, this is more used by political than commercial advertising. The reason is that a commercial product — while obviously desirable — doesn't need to convince the majority of the consumers to still be viable, but a politician who doesn't convince a majority (or plurality, depending on the system) of the voters loses the election. For the same reason, politicians frequently avoid being too specific about what they stand for, to appeal to as many voters as possible — but they can be specific about what their opponents (supposedly) stand for. Furthermore, most commercial products stand little to gain by demonizing their competition, while politicians (especially in two-party systems like the US) can be sure that people who are convinced their opponent is evil will at the very least stay home or possibly vote for them as the "lesser evil" — both outcomes a politician can live with. On the other hand, say, Apple won't necessarily benefit from the reputation of Microsoft [catastrophically] tanking, as there are still Android and Linux products that people who are not sold on Apple could buy.

Sub-Trope of Propaganda Piece. Compare Scare 'Em Straight for uncomfortable similarities, and expect copious amounts of Strawmen Political.

Fictional examples should go under Attack of the Political Ad. And please be specific in your examples, giving direct citations when possible. When it comes to politics, a simple "I am not making this up" will not do.


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  • A particularly controversial example was the Children Overboard affair, where Prime Minister John Howard openly alleged that boat people were throwing their kids into the ocean as an excuse to secure refugee status in Australia. Despite lack of evidence that kids were being thrown overboard, 9/11 had only happened a few weeks earlier, and the Howard government successfully cashed in on latent national security fears and portrayed the Opposition as soft on illegal immigration.
  • In their late 2007 election campaign, Australians were subjected to both Labor ads about Howard and Costello wanting to take away even more workers' rights, and Coalition ads about "anti-business" unions running the country if Labor got in. Labor won, and analysts commented that Australians still seem to have respect for the union movement despite the Howard government's attempts to demonize them. The Chaser's War On Everything, naturally, had something to say about it...
  • An intra-party example came during the struggle for Liberal Party leadership between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott in 2009, with the moderate Turnbull saying that under Abbott, they would "become a fringe party of the far right". Abbott won. (Ironically, six years later, he was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.)
  • Par for the course every election actually. One would be hard pressed to find an ad that does not portray the opposition as baby eating, child raping, thrill killing terrorists. The political attack ads in the Grand Theft Auto games are subtle in comparison.
  • A tame example from Tess Ghalleger/Jacqui James (Carolyn Craig)

  • In the 2006 election, the Liberal Party, afraid of losing government, ran ads against the Conservative Party and Conservative leader Stephen Harper in particular. The ads featured a cold female voice-over, Radio personality Bill Carroll on CFRB 1010 noted the "Paid for by the Liberal Party" text in some appeared above Harper's lips, in effect giving him a mustache like Adolf Hitler's.
    • Most controversial of the ads, was one alleging that Harper would deploy Canadian troops into Canadian cities. "Soldiers with guns. In our cities." This was quickly withdrawn. Not only was it completely false, but the military and veterans considered it to be a grave insult to be portrayed (and many other Canadian on their behalf) as some jackboot occupying force.
    • The ads failed, with Harper going on to win three consecutive and serving nine successful years as Prime Minister of Canada (the longest serving Conservative since Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (served 1984-1993) and the most number of consecutives wins since John Diefenbaker).
  • In the 2008 Canadian general elections, the New Democratic Party ran ads against the Conservative Party and Bloc Quebecois, portraying them as corrupt authoritarians and useless good-for-nothings respectively, followed by scenes of Ghibli Hills while a voiceover explains the NDP platform.
    • Of course, in Quebec, Bloc Quebecois won most seats and the NDP won only one — and that was solely on the strength of their local candidate.
    • Dion's campaign had a lot of this on the Conservatives, including a pulled ad warning Canadians that Harper would bring soldiers to protect, er, subjugate Canadian cities. Soldiers with guns.
  • In the 1993 Canadian federal election, the Progressive Conservatives ran an ad that (at least in popular perception) was a scare campaign targeted at the Liberal leader Jean Chrétien's facial disfigurement caused by his Bell's palsy, suggesting he would be a national embarrassment in the office of Prime Minister because of it. The Tories went from 156 seats to 2 in that election. The ad lost them ten percentage points in one day as Chretien leapt at the opportunity to give a speech about being a little guy who was Inspirationally Disadvantaged. Chretien would become Prime Minister as a result of the election and turned out to be competent at the job despite his quirks.
  • Parodied by the Rick Mercer Report during the 2006 Canadian election — see here. There's a second one that accuses Stephen Harper of giving live grenades to children.
  • The 2011 federal election was a bit less alarmist on all sides, as the Conservatives and NDP realized that they could both gain at the expense of the Liberals and the Bloc (which they did). As a result, it's a fair statement that this election had two winners, without too much mudslinging.
    • There was little mudslinging between the Conservatives and the NDP. However, the entire Conservative strategy was essentially portraying the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as evil for having lived in the United States while teaching at Harvard. (And, not living in Canada for several decades — and describing himself as an American)
  • Prior to the 2015 election, the Conservatives ran attack ads against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, slamming him as an inexperienced leader whose only credentials were his name (his father Pierre Trudeau was a former Prime Minister) and his nice hair, and dismissing him as "Just not ready". It backfired when the Liberals ran their own ads where Trudeau echoed the "just not ready" line to dismiss Conservative complaints and promote his own party's agenda. Furthermore, that attack ad campaign lowered public expectations about Justin Trudeau so much that he was able to easily sail above them and charmed the electorate with his grace and savvy to win.
    • In the middle of the campaign, a controversy involving niqabs (a face-covering robe worn by some Muslim women) at citizenship ceremonies popped up. The Conservatives (and the Bloc Quebecois) quickly exploited this to attack the NDP (who supported women wearing them at citizenship ceremonies and were already beginning to slide from their position at the top of the polls), leading to accusations of the Conservatives stoking fear and xenophobia. This played into the hands of the Liberals, who ultimately managed to siphon support from both parties in order to win the election.
  • In 2003, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario accidentally released an overblown press release identifying the Liberal Party leader, Dalton McGuinty, as an "evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet". McGuinty instantly responded with "I like cats" with a self-deprecating smile that charmed the public and caught a lucky break during a photo-op when a cat wandered to him and he got to pet it for the camera. The result was that he won the election with a solid majority.
  • In 1988, the Liberal Party ran the famous "Border" ad, depicting American negotiators erasing the Canada-US border and effectively merging Canada into the United States. The Progressive Conservatives retaliated with an ad depicting the border being drawn back on, and won the election.

     United Kingdom  
  • As the page image shows, in the run up to the 1997 General Election, the Tories opted for 100% Nightmare Fuel while trying to discredit the Labour Party. Their party political broadcast featured a pair of giant, scowling red eyes following around the hard working UK public — glaring up at them from ATMs, frowning down at them from the sky, and (used in most of the billboard adverts) peering evilly out from the black gap between two red curtains. In the television adverts, a voice listed the scary, scary things the Labour party would do (like raising taxes) before repeating "New Labour — New Danger". It's worth noting that the actual "dangers" were pretty run-of-the-mill political policies; it was campaign's presentation that was designed to make them as scary as possible.
    • Labour retaliated by depicting the Conservatives as a pair of disembodied, grey, grasping hands, playing on the Conservatives' reputation for taking money and public spending from the working classes to fund the rich. In the end, Labour won in a landslide victory, but it probably wasn't due to their ad campaign — most people agreed the Conservative one was more effective and scarier, but it didn't stop people from voting Labour for other reasons.
    • Those were the toned down versions. Initially, Conservative posters gave the scary red eyes to Tony Blair, while Labour posters featured a literally two-faced John Major.
  • The 2019 election was the culmination of a long period of scare campaigning against the Labour Party and specifically at its leader Jeremy Corbyn. This included allegations of institutional anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; a big thing was made of a list of cases being investigated by police and the relevant authority which would no doubt all be substantiated. After the election was safely over, the investigation results came back - only one of fifty or so alleged anti-Semitic hate crimes by Labour Party members was considered to have any validity to it.
  • In 2019, the UK's Conservative Government pledged to overturn the ban on hunting with dogs, despite the majority of the country supporting the ban. Coincidentally there were two then-recent incidents where children were injured by foxes, and the pro-hunters and their allies in the right-wing press demonized both foxes and animal rights campaigners (including Queen's Brian May). Cue descriptions of savage attacks by animals stalking the streets in vast numbers on beautiful innocent babies (and cute kitties, puppies and bunnies), and some photos of yawning snarling foxes. Animal rights campaigners were even accused of threatening the family of two of the victims, despite the police saying there was no specific threat; just some concerning comments.
    • In February 2013, a London baby was attacked by a feral fox and lost a finger. The pro-hunting lobby and its sympathetic media (The Daily Mail in particular) proclaimed this incident is a direct result of the hunting ban which has allowed foxes space to breed and become a real menace. No word from the Mail as to how well a traditional fox-hunt might work in urban London, though.
  • The 2010 election in the UK was a full on scare campaign from both sides. The Conservatives' big scare campaign centered around the disaster a hung parliament would be, and that a vote for anyone but them would be allowing Gordon Brown to stay in power. Labour's scare campaign centered around David Cameron actually being Margaret Thatcher in disguise and that if the Tories got into power it would mean disaster for the working classes whilst they favoured their rich and powerful friends, and again that a vote for anyone but Labour was a vote for Thatcher Cameron. The BNP naturally claimed that they were the only party to prevent Britain becoming a Muslim country overrun by immigrants. The big focus of all parties' scare campaigns was the economy. The Conservatives said Labour had already ruined the economy and would just get the country more into debt and crippled under massive interest payments. Labour said the Tories would turn around their good work to begin the economic recovery and there would be another recession. The Liberal Democrats said that both parties were wrong and that their way was the best and most fair way to solve the economic problems. The minor parties said some things too, but nobody listened to them.
  • Winston Churchill, prior to the 1945 election, claimed that Labour "would have to fall back on some form of a Gestapo" if elected. The comment went over very badly. Labour won by a landslide.
  • Then there was the 2005 UK Independence Party (or UKIP) Party Political Broadcast — a Eurosceptic party — which portrayed the EU as a Giant Blue Octopus attacking London with its Combat Tentacles. This was coupled with ominous threats about how the EU was damaging British culture.
  • Peter Griffiths, the Conservative candidate for Smethwick in the 1964 general election, ran on an anti-immigration campaign which featured the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour". Rather depressingly, he won.
    • However, it must be noted that, according to The Other Wiki, that wasn't really his campaign slogan and there is no evidence that his party was responsible for it. He was running on an anti-immigration plank and the slogan, which was erected around the area, benefited his campaign, although he wasn't responsible by it. Griffiths would later write his own book on the election, "A Question of Colour. The Smethwick Election of 1964".

     United States  
  • The 1964 "Daisy" ad for Lyndon Johnson's campaign is probably one of the most famous — and effective — examples, and is often credited with Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. It depicted a little girl picking off the petals of a daisy, counting each one, before transitioning to the countdown for a nuclear test... with a man's voice with an accent surprisingly similar to Goldwater's ... and then a mushroom cloud.
    Johnson: These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.
    Announcer (Chris Schenker): Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.
  • Besides the clusterfuck that were the 1972 Democratic Party primariesnote , Richard Nixon framed his challenger George McGovern and the Democrats as the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion" — riddled with the worst excesses of the 1960s' counterculture that wanted immorality to run rampant on the rest of the country — compared to the GOP that supported the Good Old Ways of the flag, faith, and family values. Nixon's "Southern Strategy" to court the conservative "silent majority" of white Northerners and Southerners by appealing to their backlash against the antiwar and the civil rights movements also helped him sail to a landslide victory in the 1972 election.
  • In the 2006 Massachusetts gubernatorial election, GOP incumbent Kerry Healey blasted Democratic challenger Deval Patrick, a defense lawyer, for reversing the death sentence against a convicted killer. "Her approach is to protect the victims and Deval Patrick's approach is always to protect convicted criminals." This is, however, a defense attorney's job. The ads blew up in Healey's face and Deval won by a landslide.
  • The infamous "Willie Horton" ad which became famous when Bush the Elder used it to destroy Dukakis in 1988. Interestingly, it was first used by Senator Gary Hart in the primaries, and Bush the Elder merely borrowed the idea. And the first person to actually talk about Horton was Al Gore.
    • "Revolving Door" was another ad used by Bush Sr. to claim Dukakis's soft-on-crime stance would jack up crime rates if he became president.
  • Ted Kennedy's "Robert Bork's America" speech was a scare campaign unto itself, albeit one specifically targeted at defeating a Supreme Court nominee in the Senate.
  • In the 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court election, candidate Michael Gableman ran an ad against his opponent, incumbent Louis Butler, where he highlighted a case in which Butler, then a public defender, represented a man accused of raping a young girl, stating that, "Butler found a loophole. [The defendant] went on to molest another child." Not only is this, again, a defense attorney's job, but the ad was also blasted for being misleading, since it was clearly meant to imply a causal link between the two (i.e. that Butler's efforts had freed a rapist to rape again); in reality, Butler had only represented the man at his appeal (where the only possible outcome was a new trial, not an outright acquittal), not at his initial trial, and, more importantly, Butler lost the case, and the defendant's conviction was upheld. The rapist served his sentence, was released, and then "went on to molest another child" — a far cry from what the ad suggested. Butler ultimately lost the race to Gableman, though it's unclear how much of a role this particular ad played in that outcome.
  • The 2008 presidential race was pretty much all about this. John McCain would like us to know that Barack Obama is an inexperienced loser who will let terrorists destroy America, while Obama would like to tell us how McCain would drive America straight into a ditch with George W. Bush's same old policies.
    • One of the more memorable and desperate-looking McCain ads showed an ominous narrator predicting what are meant to sound like life-threateningly high taxes while a shadow of the Capitol dome descends on a map of America and, then, a sleeping baby's face.
    • The "Three AM" ads put out by Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries. And there was much lampooning to follow, most notably from the little girl in the Stock Footage the ad used, who at that point was seventeen years old and a supporter of Obama.
    • James Dobson from Focus on the Family sent out a letter from 2012 if Obama won the election. Make a Drinking Game out of which of these predictions didn't come true.
      • Or don't — you'd likely develop cirrhosis or a good case of Dead if you tried.
    • Senatorial candidates had their fair share of ridiculous attack ads as well. Elizabeth Dole's "Kay Hagan took godless money—what did she promise in return" ad backfired (in large part because Hagan's background — she was, among other things, a former Sunday school teacher — very clearly refuted the ad's implications, and it ended up making Dole herself look bad) and led to North Carolina becoming the first state to have two female Senators from different political parties, and the first time since the 50s that no Bush or Dole has been in the government.
    • In Virginia, Republican Virgil Goode (who at the time was known for criticizing a Muslim congressman for taking his oath of office on a Koran) aired a crudely racist ad aimed at Democrat Tom Perriello in which Perriello's face was retouched to darken his skin and give him a beard, making him look like a Scary Black Man. Goode lost.
    • Just as Willie Horton was used to destroy Mike Dukakis in 1988, Mike Huckabee's aspirations were doomed when other candidates painted him as soft on crime due to his past efforts to get convicted felons Maurice Clemmons and Wayne DuMond released from prison early.
  • Chicago gives us a great example. In 1983, the city Democratic Party nominated Harold Washington as their candidate for mayor. Normally, winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to being elected mayor of Chicago, but there was one problem: Washington was black. This gave the Republican challenger Bernard Epton an opportunity to run a series of racist attack ads telling people to vote for him "before it's too late." Even though Washington won the election, his time in office was marked by racially-charged battles with the City Council, in which a white bloc of 28 councilmen (with one additional token Latino) consistently voted against everything he tried to do, until a Federal court decision ruled that district lines had been intentionally drawn with the purpose of shutting out minorities.
    • These ads were parodied in the Chris Rock film Head of State, in which he plays a guy who runs for President. His opponent runs an ad saying, "This is what will happen if Mays Gilliam [Chris Rock's character] is elected President," then showing the White House getting blown up.
    • The really sad thing (revealed in an episode of This American Life) is that Epton was actually a fairly liberal Republican, certainly on race issues (he had been part of the civil rights marches and so on), and was extremely uncomfortable with the tone of his campaign. He was so not racist, in fact, that he apparently didn't catch that "before it's too late" was a dog-whistle phrase until it had already become the campaign's main slogan.
  • In the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial election, the Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore ran an ad with a woman saying that Kilgore's opponent (Tim Kaine) wouldn't have favored giving Adolf Hitler the death penalty. As if that wasn't enough, the ad was released on Yom Kippur. It backfired, badly — not least because the staunchly Roman Catholic Kaine objects to the death penalty on any grounds.
  • The infamous "white hands" ad from Jesse Helms's successful 1990 U.S. Senate campaign, featuring a close-up shot of two (white) hands holding a letter and crumpling it as a narrator says "You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority."
  • While the "Meatballs" adnote  ended Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan's bid for the presidency in 2000 due to widespread backlash, his nativist stances were adopted by Donald Trump in his successful 2016 election bid.
  • This trope is Older Than Television: in the early part of the 20th century, corporations that employed child labor in factories and sweatshops campaigned mercilessly against laws prohibiting child labor, with such arguments as "If this law passes, Mr. Smith won't be able to pay Johnny to mow his lawn!"
  • During Andrew Jackson's second term re-election in 1832, his opponents would invent stories about his actions as President to discourage voters. The funniest of these was the (completely fictional) story about Jackson kidnapping an American woman and sending her as a whore to the Russian Czar as a gift.
    • Jackson attracted a lot of this sort of thing: the election of 1828 saw the issuing of the Coffin Handbills, which accused Jackson of murdering his own soldiers, random people in Nashville, and numerous Native Americans. There's a reproduction of one of them here.
  • There was an accusation that President John Adams had sent General Charles C. Pinckney to England to procure four women, two for each of them. Adams laughed off the accusation, declaring, "If this be true, General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two."
  • Carly Fiorina's truly bizarre Demon Sheep Commercial, where she compares moderate Republican California Senate Primary rival Tom Campbell to a "Wolf In Sheep's Clothing" for his moderate fiscal policy. Fair enough, but the guy in a sheep costume with the glowing red Terminator eyes was probably a step too far. Fiorina would win the primary, but lose the main election.
  • In one of the more infamous moments of the 2002 election season, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss ran an ad against contender Max Cleland — a Vietnam war veteran who'd lost three limbs to a grenade — questioning his dedication to national security... and framing his photo between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He was called out by both Democrats and Republicans for the ad, but still won the election.
  • In the 2014 Congressional election, every Illinois YouTube resident was asked one question: What is Brad Schneider hiding? Unfortunately, we never found out because most of us skipped the ad when we got the chance.
  • The infamous "Aqua Buddha" ad from the 2010 Kentucky Senate election between Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and Tea Party frontman Rand Paul. The most notable claim Conway puts forth in this ad against Paul is that Paul tied up a young woman and physically forced her to take bong hits and worship his supposed deity of choice, Aqua Buddha. Naturally, it backfired horribly, as when the election came round, Paul curb stomped Conway in the polls, with the ad being cited as one of the primary reasons why.
    • One citation is that it makes you question Conway's sanity as his weirdness meter is obviously broken.
  • Taliban Dan. Most glaringly his "Submit to me, it's in the Bible" line quote is the exact opposite when heard in context. It didn't work.
  • To show that smear campaigns are Older Than They Think, Reason Magazine published this video showing real campaign smears against Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, but as modern day attack ads. Watch them and marvel at how our ages' attack ads feel so polite and genteel by comparison.
  • The 2012 presidential campaign was one of the most negative — if not the most negative — campaign seasons since the invention of television. Setting aside the clusterfuck that was the Republican primary, Barack Obama did his damnedest to portray Mitt Romney as a tax-evading, job-destroying, plutocratic, oligarchic hypocrite, and Romney tried to counter by saying "You screwed up the economy." Alas, both resorted to Quote Mining and occasionally even willful misinterpretation of the other's statements to a degree that drove countless Americans up the wall. Some specifics:
    • Obama's video of Romney's off-key rendition of "America the Beautiful" while displaying news clippings of his numerous tax havens and the locations thereof; the juxtaposition of Romney singing "America, America, God shed..." with a beautifully blowing Swiss flag was particularly ingenious (and manipulative). The infuriating part for the Romney campaign? It's all more or less true (although the implication may not be).
    • Romney made hay about Obama telling businesspeople that "they didn't build that", with "that" referring to their businesses. The Obama campaign would counter by saying that the quote was taken out of context and he was actually talking about the infrastructure necessary to build such a business (roads and bridges, public schools, the Internetnote ). The full quote even in context is rather ambiguous, and a case could be made on either side. He did talk about roads and bridges, among many other things, but much later in the quote, he also said the phrase, in full; "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." If he had immediately said "you didn't build those after mentioning roads and bridges, it would have been harder to spin it the way the Romney campaign did.
      • Which, despite the use in anti-Obama attack ads, inspired the Tag Line for the 2012 Republican Caucus ("We Built It").
      • Which backfired on them when they also decided to put a version of the National Debt Clock in the convention hall...allowing creative photographers (aided by a bit of Photoshop) to Make their own Take That! at Republicans.
    • Both sides eventually decided to dispense with pleasantries and go straight for the hyperbole. For example, this advert concerning the consequences of Mitt Romney closing a steel plant all but accuses Romney of giving this man's wife cancer, while another basically has Paul Ryan throw an old lady off of a cliff For the Evulz.
  • This political advertisement for the 2010 Los Angeles City Council election is some strange mixture of gangsta rap, pole dancing and communist propaganda, all without telling you just who the hell it's trying to get you to vote for.
  • In the New York City 2013 mayoral election, Republican candidate Joe Lhota built his campaign on the theme that, should his Democratic rival Bill de Blasio get elected, he would undo all the work done by Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg to clean up the city and return New York to the bad old days of The Big Rotten Apple. Given that de Blasio won by a margin so colossal that the proper term wouldn't be "landslide" so much as "pyroclastic flow", it's clear that Lhota failed.
  • The 2016 Presidential campaign came down to a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, two of the most unpopular candidates in electoral history. As a result, both sides tried to discredit the other.
    • This Senate ad attacks sitting Senator John McCain for his plan to endorse Trump. McCain later yanked his endorsement in light of the leaked Access Hollywood tapenote , which nearly derailed Trump's campaign. Even after the election, McCain became one of Trump's fiercest critics until his death in 2018 partly because Trump made light of his status as a POW in 2015.
    • These ones from Clinton's campaign are basically just a montage of crazy things Trump has said.
    • Not from any official campaign, but the Fictosophy short "The Best Case Scenario" ends up being an attack ad against Trump.
    • One of the ugliest episodes of the campaign was when sites such as Americans Against Clinton and Trump President 4 Life started jumping all over this video suggesting the NYPD and the FBI had discovered in Hillary's emails that she was running a child sex slavery operation. This turned out to be an elaborate hoax according to Snopes and the fact Clinton had not been arrested for the crimes.
  • Some critics have charged that there's a element of this in regards to victims of police brutality, and how they're portrayed in the media. Especially if the victim is black.
  • After Bernie Sanders popularized his brand of Democratic Socialism (really closer to Social Democracy) in the United States, the Republican right wing resorted to Red Scare techniques in an attempt to frame him and his ideological fellow-travelers (such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) as ignorant at best or Dirty Communists at worst, set on turning America into a destitute dictatorship.note  Ironically, the attacks only seemed to make them more popular, in a similar way as the constant attacks against Donald Trump during his campaign appeared to help him more than hurt him. The sheer egregiousness of ads such as this one, combined with Trump's general unpopularity among Democrats, probably had something to do with this.
  • The 2020 election was another shitshow with Donald Trump and his opponent Joe Biden calling each other senile idiots prone to gaffes (as both are elderly). Trump also claimed that the COVID-19 Pandemic was a conspiracy to oust him from power, while Biden claimed Trump would turn the country into a dictatorship.
    • Trump came off too caustic during the first debate due to his constant heckling, forcing Biden to shush him many times. The 2nd debate was canceled as Trump refused to debate virtually despite catching the virusnote . The ensuing criticism forced the final debate's format to be changed by cutting off the mikes when each candidate's speaking time was up.
    • In 2019, Trump allegedly coerced Ukraine into providing damaging intel about Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for military aid, which led to his first impeachment. The Biden campaign jumped at the chance to use this against him, arguing that Trump would blackmail foreign governments into helping him against domestic political rivals.
    • Depending on voter alignment, both camps ran TV ads claiming their opponent will turn America into a lawless Wretched Hive.
      • This Biden ad mocks Trump's comments on why he does not like having pets, portraying him as a selfish narcissist. The Republican Accountability Projectnote  ran ads featuring GOP voters who regretted voting for Trump in 2016 and feel he was unfit for the job.
      • This Trump ad claims Biden is a socialist puppet who will work to "defund" the police. Another anti-Biden ad claims that he will "shut down" the economy simply because of COVID-19.
    • During the campaign, Trump stated he won't concede if he lostnote , which did happen when he preemptively declared victory before it was officially called, filed more than sixty Frivolous Lawsuitsnote , bullied election officials (including his own Vice President Mike Pencenote , then Attorney General Bill Barr, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffenspergernote ), obstructed the presidential transition, and spread conspiracy theories in an effort to flip the results once Biden was declared the winner. Even though he conceded grudgingly, Trump remains sour and has called for the 2020 election to be redonenote .
      • Even before the election, Trump falsely claimed that postal votingnote  is fraud-prone and tried to have the Postal Service slow down mail deliveries, though it led to an outcry of medical supplies not being delivered in time and his claims about postal voting were debunked many times. Trump also floated delaying the election, but it was opposed by even the GOP as only Congress can alter the election date.
  • Scaremongering was used in the 2021 California gubernatorial recall election. It was triggered over incumbent governor Gavin Newsom's attendance at a birthday party despite imposing some of the toughest COVID-19 policies in the United States.
    • Newsom painted his primary opponent Larry Elder, a right-wing talk radio host, as an anti-vaxxer who, if elected, would enact similar policies imposed by Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas. Not helping Elder were his support for former president Donald Trump, who is despised in California, and his history of making controversial remarks. The anti-recall groups also outspent 4-to-1 to drum up support.
    • On the flip side, Elder accused Newsom of running California awash with high taxes and over-regulation. Elder also claimed that Newsom planned to rig the election in his favor, though he conceded defeat the next day.
  • While LGBTQ people have always been subject to this, there was an immense wave of right-wing scaremongering against trans people in the early 2020s. Most of this centered around depicting trans people as "groomers" targeting innocent children to indoctrinate them into becoming trans themselves, or even as outright child molesters. It has since mushroomed into a wider homophobic backlash by far-right personalities, groups, and politicians who have manifested this hatred thru various forms such as restrictions on LGBTQ rights and content, and a sharp uptick of hate crimes.
  • Although the GOP pulled a squeaker win in the 2022 House of Representatives elections, their lame results elsewhere was due to the unpopular Dobbs Supreme Court decision earlier that year, which reversed Roe v. Wade and stated abortion is not a right. Other reasons why the overhyped "red wave" flopped were ex-president Donald Trump running for 2024 despite his unpopularity and fixation with losing the 2020 election to Biden, and GOP candidates embracing authoritarianism and bigotry towards minorities and LGBTQ+ people. Not helping matters was Trump's tendency to interject in many races with his handpicked candidates over GOP leaders' objections. That it took Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) 15 ballots to become the Speaker of the Housenote  shows the GOP's weak position as they have a razor-thin majority in the House.
    • In the 2022 Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro's Landslide Election victory over Republican Doug Mastriano can be traced to the latter's far-right stances, links to extremist groups, and supporting Trump's efforts to overturn the state's 2020 election results, all of which repulsed moderates, whom Mastriano chose to ignore. That he didn't give interviews as he felt the media was "biased" against him nor did he air TV ads until the last moment also hampered his chances.
      • Related to this is the Senate election with Democratic candidate John Fetterman defeating Republican candidate and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz partly because Fetterman framed Oz as an elitist carpetbagger who actually lived in New Jersey until late 2020note . The other factor in Fetterman's win despite suffering a stroke was Oz's "crudités" videonote , which only served to make Oz look out-of-touch with the average voter.
    • In the Georgia Senate race, besides his propensity for gaffes, infighting amongst his staffers and past mental health issues, ex-NFL player Herschel Walker was condemned for being a deadbeat father to several of the children he sired with different women despite hypocritically bemoaning about fatherless households and accusations of paying for his ex-girlfriends' abortions despite running on an pro-life platform. As with Oz, Walker was accused of carpetbagging given he lived in Texas until 2021.
    • Incumbent Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer's unexpected 11-point victory over Republican challenger Tudor Dixonnote  can be traced to Trump's endorsement of Dixon, his attempts to overturn the state's 2020 election results, and a foiled kidnapping attempt of Whitmer by far-right militias in 2020. Whitmer's victory also had a coattail effect as not only did Democrats gain control of the state legislature for the first time since 1984, but abortion as a right was enshrined in the state constitution.
      • Simultaneously, incumbent secretary of state Jocelyn Benson warded off Republican challenger Kristina Karamo with a 14% margin thanks to the latter's support for conspiracy theories such as QAnon and believing the 2020 election was "rigged" against Trump. Not helping Karamo was a 2021 court filing which revealed that she attempted to kill herself and her daughters in a car crash when her ex-husband sought parenting time following their divorce in 2014, which made voters feel that she was unhinged.

     Other Countries  
  • The 2014 Brazilian presidential campaign was rife with this, especially on the side of incumbent President Dilma Rousseff as she ran for reelection. The primary target was the long-standing opponents of the center-left-wing PT (the President's party), the right-wing PSDB, who launched former Minas Gerais Governor Aécio Neves, but once PSB's Marina Silva started appearing neck-to-neck with Rousseff on polls, the President's marketing campaigns shifted their attacks on Marina instead, basically by attacking her inefficiency during the time she was Minister of Environment under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Rousseff's predecessor, who is still seen by many as the main figurehead for PT). Marina's own indecisiveness about certain social matters didn't help her campaign, and she slipped down until she finished third place, behind Neves, and was left out of the electoral run-off. The run-off campaigns themselves were a festival of Volleying Insults between Rousseff and Neves, as well as between opposing gubernatorial candidates in some of the States where the election would be decided on run-offnote . In the end, Rousseff came out on top thanks to the support Northern and Northeastern regions' States (which have a high percentage of low-income voters, who benefit from PT's social policies, and where Neves was relatively less well known).


  • The Chilean referendum of 1988 to determine if General Augusto Pinochet would continue in power featured televised periods in which both options, "Yes" or "No", could make their arguments. The "Yes" campaign featured many clips not only mocking the "No" campaign, but also demonizing the option itself, claiming that "A victory of the "No" option will mean the return of the Popular Unity (UP), and eventually a return to a crisis period". Despite this, the "No" option won, and none of this occurred.


  • The Weimar Republic election campaigns were practically built on this trope — from long-nosed money-grubbing Jews to bloated and evil capitalists, everyone was doing it and everyone was a target. In the case of anti-Nazi and anti-communist campaigns, it was even true. However, back in those days there were no TV ads, so it was all done in billboards or party-run newspapers
  • In general German election campaigns are relatively tame, the one exception is street advertising, which can get overly direct at times. A particularly nasty Red Scare one was done by the conservatives claiming all paths of Marxism lead to Moscow at the height of the Cold War. There is even a German term for this particular type of smear "rote Socken Kampagne" or red stocking campaign, after another notable billboard campaign. However, TV ads are incredibly boring and only minor party ads (which are guaranteed slots on TV by law) are worth watching for their So Bad, It's Good tendencies.note 


  • Israel has last-minute "get out the vote" Scare Campaigns as an institution, where they're called Gevald Campaigns. One of the most infamous is 2015's "Arabs are voting in droves" video courtesy of Benjamin Netanyahu.


  • Italy's 1948 general election set a record for hysteria and meddling due to the fact that it pitted the ruling center-right Christian Democracy (DC) against the leftist Popular Democratic Front coalition composed of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and Italian Socialist Party (PSI) at an early high point of the Cold War, coming only months after the Soviet-supported coup that brought the Czechoslovak Communist Party to power in Czechoslovakia. The USA not only donated about $1 million to DC and its allies, it had the CIA run letter-writing campaigns, make extensive shortwave radio broadcasts and publish material meant to scare the Italians about a potential PCI victory (Time magazine even pronounced Italy to be "on the brink of catastrophe" as the election campaign entered its last month), while the Soviets, not to be outdone, also threw money at PCI, the total sum being estimated to be $8-10 million by former CIA operative F. Mark Wyatt (who was extensively involved in the funding procedure and played a role in Operation Gladio). Unsurprisingly, one of the DC's main tactics during the campaign was to scare the shit out of the Italian electorate: their materials threw out ludicrously over-the-top accusations that if the Front won, Italy would be stricken by disaster, become a communist country where "children send their parents to jail", "children are owned by the state" and "people eat their own children". One of their posters played on the religious sentiment of voters by proclaiming that "In the secrecy of the polling booth, God sees you — Stalin doesn't!". The DC ultimately won the election by 48.5% of the vote to the Front's 31%, but even with the fanatical scare campaign atmosphere, the Front still managed to increase their number of seats in Parliament.


  • The Mexican elections of 2006 featured the conservative PAN saying "Vote for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his populist politics will bring Mexico to a new era of crisis, devaluation, unemployment, hunger, starvation, crime, and poverty!"; the leftist PRD eventually fired back, saying "Felipe Calderón is a corrupt bastard who plunged Mexico into crisis in 1994, giving later his brother-in-law a suspicious job!". However, since the Mexican people as of 2008 are still scared of potential economic crisis after three of them in a little over 10 years (1982, 1985 and 1994), the PAN finally won, and Felipe Calderón was succeeded by a PRI candidate in 2012.

New Zealand

  • The New Zealand general election of 1975 featured a television advert (animated by Hanna-Barbera) by the right-wing National Party over the governing left-wing Labour Party's new compulsory superannuation scheme. It claimed that the money generated by the scheme would be enough to buy every business, then every farm, and then eventually the whole country. "And you know what that's called, don't you?" — cue Cossacks squat dancing across the screen.note  The thought of a communist state was enough to scare the country to vote Nationalnote , even though the ad was only shown twice on New Zealand television. The new government proceeded to cancel the superannuation scheme, a decision that has since been criticized by some as one of the worst economic decisions a New Zealand government ever made.


  • The Philippine presidential election of 2016 saw an ad against Rodrigo Duterte and his mouth paid by a senator running for the vice-presidential post. Said senator stirred controversy earlier by accusing the Davao City mayor of stashing away about $4.78 million (2016 dollars) in secret bank accounts. The ad came in too late to stop Duterte from winning the elections with over 16 million votes, as it was aired only mere days before the elections itself.
  • Immediately after EDSA II which deposed Joseph Estrada in 2001, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile became the subject of one, apparently aired by then-incumbent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's 13-0 coalition. He came in 14th, with less than a million votes away from securing a spot at the upper house.


  • The Russian presidential election of 1996 featured a TV ad portraying the Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov with a flute leading various food products into the sea. The implication was: "If the Communists win, they'll return the country to the times of product shortage." It was dropped in the second round, when it became clear that Boris Yeltsin would win.


  • The infamous Doberman 1996 campaign from the Spanish Socialist Party, which had been ruling for 14 straight years by then. To the point that, decades later, scare campaigns are still known in Spain as "Doberman Campaigns". It did work, somewhat; the Socialists recovered from a 15-point deficit and lost by barely 300,000 votes.


  • There was an infamous Swedish election in the immediate post-war era which had the Conservative party post slogans like. "A vote for the Social Democratic Worker's Party will lead to the destruction of liberty, the savagery of children and the annihilation of traditional values." Needless to say, the Social Democrats and their left-wing allies crushed the Conservatives, and went on to stay in charge of the country until 1976.
    • The Swedish right used to be quite fond of these kinds of statements. Just from the 1928 election to the second chamber of parliament: "You who vote for the 'Workers Party', your vote goes to Moscow!" "MEN OF THE DALES! Your forefathers have once saved Sweden from the Danish tyrant. Repeat your great feat once again: Every vote on the 'Workers Party' stands for the destruction of society and the introduction of Bolshevism. SAVE THE FATHERLAND!" "You who vote for the 'Workers Party' vote for the confiscation of private property. YOU will lose your savings!" "A Vote for the Freeminded Peoples Party might promote incompetence — a vote for the Workers Party might be for a communist — vote with The Liberals."
    • In Sweden's 2014 general election, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats ran an ad showing crowds of Muslim women in burqas lining up to get welfare benefits while an elderly woman with a stroller was left high and dry. The ad played on the fears of the party's xenophobic base and swept the Sweden Democrats into being parliament's 3rd largest party.

  • Russia Today (RT), Russia's state-owned English-language news network, aired these kinds of commercials for its "Question More" campaign in 2010. One ad showed Barack Obama's face morphing into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's while asking, "Who poses the greatest nuclear threat?" It's pretty clear what the desired effect of the ads were besides promoting the channel.
  • The Church of Scientology uses this as a default tactic against its many critics. It's based on what founder L. Ron Hubbard called the "Fair Game" policy, in which Scientologists use any means necessary to smear and discredit anyone who critiques their practices. Scientology has gone to such lengths as false rumors, verbal and physical harassment in public, and even framing people for serious crimes in order to force them into silence.
  • These aren't always political per se — for instance, an ads Newsweek accusing PETA of terrorism. Incidentally, no information was given as to who was paying for the ad, namely the Center for Consumer Freedom, an anti-regulatory AstroTurf lobbying organization for the fast food, meat and tobacco industries. (Hm. So the Merchants of Death are real. Go figure.)
  • Broadview (formerly Brinks) have run home security ads in which attractive young women are alone at home — suddenly a man breaks in, and as the alarm goes off the bolts, while on the phone is the reassuring voice of a Broadview representative. Subtext? If you don't have Broadview Home Security installed, you, or your wife, or your daughter will be raped.
    • In a Saturday Night Live Parody Commercial of same, it showed a woman who men were constantly kicking down her door to rape — her boyfriend, her father, her grandfather, the spokesperson of the ad...
  • Just about every Global Warming commercial ever. One involves children running while the floor cracks ending with a little girl hanging on to a tree as the floor crumbles below her. We won't even talk about the movies discussing this subject.
  • Allstate's "I'm Mayhem" commercials, where each commercial has the same suit-wearing man (played by Dean "Johnny Gavin" "Dennis Duffy" Winters) claim to be something that'll either cause you to have an accident or directly damage your car. He then says that if you don't have Allstate insurance, you're pretty much screwed.
    • A lot of car insurance commercials use similar tactics, though they're not always as comedic.
  • As would seem natural, plenty of advertisements for firearms, ammo, self-defense courses and the like are centered around trying to scare you into buying their products. Most often showing pictures of ski-mask clad bandits attempting to break into a home or the steely-eyed homeowners going for or using whatever skill is being advertised.
    • A related tactic is to talk up the the threat of new gun control laws to convince people to buy guns and ammo now, or donate to the National Rifle Association now, lest they be unable to do so later. It's been joked that the gun industry and the NRA secretly love the Democratic Party for this reason — whenever the Democrats look poised to take the House, the Senate, or the Presidency, they'll be facing a spike in sales and donations.
  • This sort of thing goes way back. In 1920s Mexico, producers of beer successfully scared the population from drinking the traditional drink Pulque by claiming that it was produced using bags of animal and human feces (muñecas) to speed the fermentation process, while beer was "rigorously hygienic" and "modern". The accusation wasn't true (muñecas with animal feces may have been used in a few backwaters into the late 19th century, but by the 1920s not even the most backwards producers used them anymore), but the damage was done: what was once Mexico's national tipple became nigh-universally shunned in the span of a few short years.
  • A staple among the opposition against High Speed Rail (besides the classics noise and cost) is the supposed disturbance of livestock — particularly cows — Here's how Real Life cows react to a train passing by at high speed. Probably one of the less interesting videos linked to from this site. (But very pretty views of a morning in rural France.)


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Attack Ad, Smear Campaign


Attack Ads, Circa 1800

And you thought 21st century attack ads were ugly.

Just for the record, yes, every claim made in these ads was used in the actual Adams and Jefferson campaigns.

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Main / ScareCampaign

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