December 2, 2010

An Assessment of Negative Campaigning

As the Alumni Council meets this weekend to discuss, in part, how to curb negative campaigning in alumni elections, one must ask the obvious question: whom should we blame for negativity? Members of Dartmouth Undying seem to take as a matter of course that petition candidates are injecting bile into the system, but further inspection rebuffs this claim. Someone should set the record straight.

A recent content analysis by Little Green Blog considers the websites for John Replogle ’88 and Mort Kondracke ‘60, the Alumni Council-nominated candidates for Trustee in 2010, and Mr. Replogle’s petition opponent Joe Asch ‘79. Our findings were as follows:

The Context

A common theme from erstwhile College president Wright’s office, particularly during the height of the Lone Pine Revolution, was to belittle petition candidates as negative and divisive politicians. Supporters of Wright and the Alumni Council nominees, such as Jonathan Hancock ’06, called on petitioners to end their campaign of “stoking divisiveness and negativity at Dartmouth”.

After the most recent round of alumni elections, prominent Dartmouth leaders were just as quick to decry the negativity of the campaign. President Kim remarked that new rules should be adopted to calm the “acrid, negative [and] angry campaigning.” Martha Beattie ’76, President of Dartmouth Undying (a group supporting Alumni Council nominees) referred to the result, which strongly favored her slate of candidates, as a call by alumni to end “contentious elections.”

The Findings

Despite alumni councilors and Dartmouth Undying bemoaning the negativity of the petitioners in the last election, the websites of the trustee candidates points to a different conclusion.

Mr. Asch: The website for Mr. Asch does not specifically target Mr. Replogle or reference the Dartmouth Undying slate. On his site, Mr. Asch frequently states his support for President Kim while also supporting fiscal prudence and a restoration of parity on the Board of Trustees. Some letters of support published on Mr. Asch’s site do make thinly veiled references to his opponents, but no outwardly negative attacks are made.

In total, Mr. Replogle’s name appears zero times on Mr. Asch’s site. Mr. Kondracke’s name likewise never appears. Mr. Asch’s site makes no reference to Dartmouth Undying or the Alumni Council nominees for other offices. (The only reference to the above parties comes in a letter linked to on the site in which Mr. Asch attempts to respond to the attack website “Joe VS Dartmouth”. Even in this letter, Mr. Asch does not critique either Mr. Replogle or Mr. Kondracke, only indicating that Mr. Kondracke urged audience members at a round table in Minneapolis to visit the “Joe VS Dartmouth”.)

Mr. Replogle and Mr. Kondracke: The websites for Mr. Replogle and Mort Kondracke ’60 (who ran unopposed for the other open seat on the Board) are a different story. Mr. Replogle and Mr Kondracke published many letters that were openly critical of Mr. Asch, in addition to publishing independent critiques of Mr. Replogle’s opponent. A letter from Phil Kron, Gene Kron and Jim Adler calls Mr. Asch a micromanager, claims he is “ill equipped to serve on the Board of Trustees” in addition to mocking Mr. Asch for an letter supporting Mr. Replogle signed by several members of the Class of 1979.

In another letter published on the sites of Mr. Replogle and Mr. Kondracke, Merle Adelman ’80, a former acting president of the Association of Alumni, accuses Mr. Asch of a “flip flop” on the alumni lawsuit blocking the Board’s 2007 expansion. Weighing in on the letter, Mr. Kondracke and Mr. Replogle intone that the letter proves “Asch will say whatever it takes to get himself elected.”

In total, Mr. Asch’s name appears 16 times on Mr. Replogles site, with a conservative estimate of eight instances where Mr. Asch is criticized or attacked. Mr. Asch’s name appears 15 times on Mr. Kondracke’s website, with a conservative estimate of seven instances where Mr. Asch is criticized or attacked. (This latter figure is particularly noteworthy considering that Mr. Kondracke faced no opposition in the campaign, from Mr. Asch or otherwise.)

Attacks From Without: Mr. Asch was also the subject of a particularly negative website entitled “Joe VS Dartmouth” which derided Mr. Asch’s qualifications and character. Typically this brand of attack site would not be considered a part of the Replogle-Kondracke campaign, except that the engineer of the site also built and maintained the campaign sites for Mr. Replogle and Mr. Kondracke. Neither candidate explicitly condemned the site, either. In fact, Mr. Kondracke publicly directed traffic to the site on at least one occasion.

“Joe VS Dartmouth” advances several negative claims about Mr. Asch, including that Mr. Asch hid aspects of his business past (in reality, Mr. Asch had once mistakenly paid taxes to the U.S. instead of the French government, and the issue had been amicably resolved), that he opposes Pell Grants and federal support for needy students, and that he “denigrates” supporters of Dartmouth’s Greek system. The scant support for these claims is often taken wildly out of context or is overtly false.


The board at Little Green Blog makes no normative claims about negative campaigning in alumni elections -- that question is beyond the scope of this study. Instead, we hope to provide alumni with useful facts with which to analyze the 2010 alumni elections.

This analysis is not exhaustive. The staff at Little Green Blog could not include a comprehensive survey of all reported communications during the course of the campaign. (A cursory glance, however, points to more negativity from Mr. Asch's opponents, including the rather spurious and unsupported charge that Mr. Asch "has demonstrated racism on numerous occasions.")

That said, candidates' official websites can reveal the general timbre of their electoral efforts and allow for the most reliable analysis of the strategies employed by each campaign. Mr. Asch, whatever our personal assessments of his merits as a candidate, made a painstaking effort to put forth only a positive campaign message. As we showed, Mr. Asch did not critique his opponent or the Dartmouth Undying slate in his web communications. This strategy stands in stark contrast to the websites of Mr. Replogle and Mr. Kondracke, which each mention Mr. Asch more than a dozen times, frequently criticizing him.

The campaigns of Mr. Replogle and Mr. Kondracke seem more vociferously negative when we consider the campaign site “Joe VS Dartmouth” which was built and maintained by an active member of the Replogle-Kondracke team and publicly advertised by Mr. Kondracke. The entire site was dedicated to attacking Mr. Asch’s qualifications and character. The claims published on the site often relied on information drawn out of context or ad hominem attacks.

Disclosure Statement

The directorate of Little Green Blog endorsed Mr. Asch’s campaign for the Board. This report’s primary author and publisher submitted an endorsement letter for Mr. Asch as well as other commentary on the election.

It would be easy to use this information to dismiss our findings. Readers would be remiss in doing so. We urge readers to visit the sites linked above and explore them. The numbers speak for themselves.

While our opinions of Mr. Ach moved us to support him in the election, we were not a part of his campaign and are not in close communication with him at the present time. The findings reported herein are based not on subjective evaluations but on factual content analysis of four websites frequented during the election. Final judgment of our methods of course rests with the reader.


  1. Anonymous9:32 AM

    1. Tom's talk, part of the Friday plenary, is on "Alumni-Nominated Trustee Candidates." Are we sure the focus of the entire weekend meeting is "negative campaigning"?

    2. Asch's mailings (not mentioned at all here) and arguably his website (, the Hanover Institute's, and other sites (such as Dartmouth United -- which should be mentioned if Dartmouth Undying is mentioned) should be considered among the negative elements in the last campaign.

    3. To limit the examination to just the Asch race is to ignore 80% of the relevant races, many of which were marked by much more negative campaigning than Asch's.

    4. It's not clear from the editorial why the mere mention of an opposing candidate's name is relevant.

  2. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Anon: If you want to fold in Dartmouth United and the campaigns for the AoA elected offices, you need to site specifics rather than make the presumption that they included "negative elements". My guess is an objective review will find a similar pattern to the LGB review. Begin by all the negativity shown towards Asch by candidate Mathias on the Association's own blog.

  3. Anon (9:23):

    1. We make no assumption that the Council's only task is to discuss negative campaigns. It surely will come up, however.

    2. Although we did not publish our findings, a preliminary analysis of Dartmouth Undying versus Dartmouth United websites upheld the conclusions from this post. Many negative references were made by the Undying slate while the Dartmouth United website made no negative charges against their opponents*.

    3. The purpose of this analysis was to discuss the most recent campaign.

    4. Mentioning a name is not necessarily negative, but the numbers do contrast strongly with Mr. Asch's strategy. We did add in the number of times Mr. Asch was criticized on his opponent's website.

    *Please refer to and (The Dartmouth AoA "Unity Slate" backed by the Alumni Council) and

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  5. Anonymous10:59 AM

    Anonymous 9:23 here.

    It seems like willful blindness to fix an Asch negativity rating without mentioning either Dartglob or his paper mailings. The constant stream of negativity that Asch aims at the establishment (if not the opponent himself) must be in the picture if you are going to talk about mere mentions of an opponent's name.

    In the end I don't think it matters what the precise score was in the last campaign. Reducing negativity in the overall process, whoever puts it out, is a good idea. There would have been little or no negativity if no petitioner had run and two Council nominees had faced off for each seat instead.