Is this the most negative campaign ever?

November 1, 2010

If you think political ads on TV this year are more negative than ever, here’s some data that back up your observation.

An academic consortium called the Wesleyan Media Project, which says it provides “real time” tracking of all political television advertising,  says in a report issued on Monday that in the last few weeks it has charted a “large uptick in negative ads.”

A couple of weeks ago, the same group said that the rate of negative advertising this year did not appear to be that much higher than in other recent general election campaigns. USA-ELECTIONS

But data analyzed in the final stages of the midterm contests led the group to conclude that 2010 turned out to be “the most negative campaign in recent history by both sides,” with “a marked increase in negativity as the general election season has heated up and drawn close to Election Day.”

Raw numbers cited by the project show that around half the ads broadcast by both official campaigns and “independent” interest groups related to individual congressional races are ads which “mention an opponent” – in other words, attack ads.

The project says that of the pro-Republican ads that it monitored, 56 percent mentioned an opponent, compared to 49.9 percent of pro-Democrat ads. During a comparable 7-week period before the 2008 election, the project said, 49.3 percent of pro-Republican ads were attacks, compared with 42.5 percent of pro-Democrat ads.

“Republicans have been more likely to attack in the waning days of this campaign than Democrats,” said Travis Ridout, a Washington State University political scientist who worked on the project, which was organized by Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

But when Democrats go negative, they rely more often than their Republican opponents on personal attacks. According to the project’s calculations, 18.4 percent of Democratic negative ads contain personal attacks, compared to only 5.6 percent of Republican negative ads. “Democrats are three times as likely to include personal attacks in their negative spots compared to Republicans,” said Michael Franz, a Bowdoin College political scientist who also worked on the Wesleyan project.

Why so many negative ads?

Experts say there is a simple reason: they are more effective at influencing voters.

Photo credit: Reuters/John Sommers II (campaign signs in the Kentucky Senate race)

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