The sad reality is the lavishly funded ad campaigns worked as intended. A report from a monitoring agency at Wesleyan University suggests that an astonishing 85 percent of all campaign commercials by the Obama campaign and allied groups featured negative messages about Romney. These attack ads aren’t supposed to inspire your people to go to the polls; they’re meant to dissuade the other guy’s supporters from going to the polls. The purpose of negative advertising is to discourage, not encourage, voting.

The advertising avalanche by the Democrats highlighted Romney’s wealth, offshore bank accounts, job-exporting background at Bain Capital, expensive Olympics horse, bad singing voice, mistreatment of his dog, unpublished tax returns, murder-by-cancer of a steelworker’s wife, and general heartlessness and cluelessness. The Obama team knew full well that such messages would never persuade committed partisans to switch support from the Republicans to the Democrats and could even alienate a few of their own backers, particularly women, with their overall nastiness. But if the ugly tone of the campaign kept right-leaning independents or even undecided voters away from the polls then it would be worth it, shrinking the field of potential recruits Romney needed to close the gap and win the election.

In short, the impact of such an unpleasant campaign almost always will prove more damaging to a challenger trying to attract new votes than to an incumbent who needs only to hold on to the bulk of his old base.