Study: Campaign ads much more negative than four years ago
Presidential campaign advertisements, including those produced by and about former House speaker Newt Gingrich, were the subject of a new study.
May 3rd, 2012
03:21 PM ET
2 years ago

Study: Campaign ads much more negative than four years ago

(CNN) - If you think the current race for the White House seems more negative than the 2008 presidential campaign, a new study indicates you're right.

According to a political advertising analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, 70% of presidential campaign commercials that have run so far this cycle have been negative. That compares to less than one in ten ads that ran by this time four years ago that criticized an opponent.

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"One reason the campaign has been so negative is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1100 percent over four years ago" said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. "But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates' own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn."

The study indicates that more than half (53%) of the ads put out by the various campaigns from the beginning of last year through April 22 have been negative, compared to just nine percent at this point in the 2008 election cycle. And 86% of the commercials put out by independent groups, such as super PACs, are negative, up from 25% four years ago.

And ads by the independent groups seem to be dominating broadcast and cable television. At this point in the 2008 cycle, more than 96% of all ads in the race for the White House came from the campaigns. This time around, the campaigns account for just 36% of the spots, with the outside groups responsible nearly 60% of the commercials. The remaining four percent of ads were put out by the political parties.

"Such levels of outside group involvement in a presidential primary campaign are unprecedented," said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. "This is truly historic. To see 60 percent of all ads in the race to-date sponsored by non-candidates is eye-popping."

According to the study, which used data from Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, Crossroads GPS is the biggest spending on general election ads, dishing out $12.6 million to run nearly 17,000 spots in 47 television markets. Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group that backs GOP causes and candidates, along with American Crossroads, its affiliated super PAC, were co-founded by Karl Rove.

As a nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, like many of the other independent groups putting up ads so far this cycle, does not have to disclose its donors.

"The biggest difference between general and primary election ads so far is that the majority of general election airings and spending has come from groups that do not need to disclose their donors," said Michael M. Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. "That's a lot of money and airtime backed by undisclosed sources."

And timing appears to also be a contributing factor in the rise in negative ads.

"At this point in 2008, the Democratic primary was still on going. Whereas in April 2004, you had a president on soft political ground whose road to re-election involved utterly disqualifying his then-known challenger. The same holds for 2012, which explains the negative ads from the Obama camp. Only now, you also have a well-resourced cadre of super PACs and outside groups who are determined to blunt those attacks by launching their own," said CMAG Vice President Elizabeth Wilner.

Another highlight from the study: The Republican candidates relied heavily on the super PACs that supported them to run ads in their behalf during the campaign for the GOP nomination. According to the data, a majority of the ads in support of Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney came from the super PACs backing those candidates. Ron Paul was the least reliant on super PAC ads.

Also see:

Romney adviser left after being silenced, source says

Bachmann to endorse Romney

Pro-Romney super PAC back on the air


Filed under: 2012 • Ads
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Democrat Class Warfare - Destroying the economy, destroying the country

    It's Obama fault. He had FOUR YEARS to do something positive and couldn't do it. Now he can't brag about his failures because they certainly won't get him re-elected. So he has to piant Romney a sthe big bad wolf so people will be distracted from 4 years of failure.

    But I'm sure Obama's going to go big with ads bragging about Obamacare. It worked so well for Democrats in 2010.

    May 3, 2012 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  2. Marie MD

    We all need to thank mcnasty, his advisors and that piece of white AK trash for starting this in 2008! The media is also at fault because they continued to follow the stink the bimbo leaves behind wherever she goes. It's something between garbage here on Earth and the sulphur of Hell!

    May 3, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    More negative ads. And the vast overwhelming majority of those ads have been paid for by conservatives.

    May 3, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  4. Tyrone

    Is Bishop Romney ever gonna LOSE THE SKIRT & hold a real Press Confrence???????????????

    May 3, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  5. The Greedy Old Pigs declared class war on US!

    We can thank our naive or just plain malicious SCOTUS decision on Citizens United, No more "corporate personhood"!

    May 3, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  6. edog

    Democrat Class Warfare – Destroying the economy, destroying the country

    It's Obama fault. He had FOUR YEARS to do something positive and couldn't do it. Now he can't brag about his failures because they certainly won't get him re-elected. So he has to piant Romney a sthe big bad wolf so people will be distracted from 4 years of failure.
    --------------------------–

    You must be the same guy that talks about how Obama can't run on his record, but then complain that he is 'spiking' the football when he is running on his record of "KILLING BIN LADEN"! Which is it!! Can't run on his record, or no don't run on his record. Have it both ways GOP idiot.

    May 3, 2012 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  7. Gurgyl

    GOP is a joke...lies, lies, flip-flop, nonsense..

    May 3, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  8. Rajiv Shaw

    A reflection on the character of the candidates!

    May 3, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  9. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Mittens has nothing to run on, so he will spend hundreds of millions trashing the president.

    May 3, 2012 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  10. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    The GOP and their Tea Party didn't win the midterm because they have a better plan for America's future! No, they were successful simply because their outrageous propaganda, their shared deceitfulness and their fear mongering tactics all went unchallenged by the cowering Democratic Party! And it is so sad that a year after Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords and little Christina Green and others were gunned down in Arizona, the rightwing base continues to use use the very same kinds of divisive rhetoric that caused this tragedy! And I'm so appalled by the continued nonchalant and lackadaisical behavior of the Democratic Party because when Ted Nugent recently threatened to revolt against the will of the people if they re-elect President Obama, there was no response from the Democrats in congress to say enough is enough! Let's face it, the Democarsts in congress are also to be blamed for these negative rightwing ads!

    May 3, 2012 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  11. Marie MD

    @democrat whatever, is that you truth? You sound as demented!

    May 3, 2012 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  12. yneemee

    So what... the owners of our "free press" don't care – expanding on whatJimmy Kimmel said...the 1% overlords who own of CNN, MSNBC, NMC, ABC, CBS, FOX and the barely read "print media" just keep cashing the checks... yah, baby – demokracy is good for the bottom line

    May 3, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    and we needed a study to tell us this .. good work

    May 3, 2012 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  14. Skip Glanz

    Actually, Romneys ads have been 100% attack ads. Has anyone seen anything he has proposed. All he does is attack his opponents with PAC monies and ads. Whether it be Bachman(the wicked witch), Gingrich, Santorum or Paul, he attack them all. Now its the Presidents turn. Maybe if he took a stand on something and did not change his posotion, he would be better off, but then again look how far he has gone by not saying anything about his plans. Gullible people are listening to his negative comments and not looking for anything else.

    May 3, 2012 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  15. Gin

    I just mute the ads when they come on TV. I have had it with politics in general.

    May 3, 2012 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  16. Randy, San Francisco

    Why should anyone be surprised? Thanks to the conservative activists on the Supreme Court, super PACs with unlimited money and no accountability are churning out misleading negative ads.

    May 3, 2012 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  17. Myviewis

    I don't think conservatives need to spend a lot of money on negative ads on Obama since Obama's record speaks for itself, just look at the unemployment lines, people have drained their savings, can barely afford to drive to work.

    May 3, 2012 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  18. BLKMANinAmerica

    WOW so in all of this no one is stating what is clearly TRUE..........................the repuks have all lost the little bit of mind they that they had and continue to be in DENIAL about. SAD!

    May 3, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  19. Myviewis

    Who is dumb enough to listen to that very rich, wealthy Jimmy Kimmel? That guy is laughing on his way to the bank at all the morons that listen to him and make him very rich.

    May 3, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  20. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Demo class warfare – Obama had four years and could not do anything positive?

    Is that you Mittens? I did not think any other republican could be so full of lies, misinformation and hate. According to most right wingnuts, if we are not in two unfunded wars at once, we are failing.

    May 3, 2012 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  21. Ed

    And the other 30% are, let me guess... slightly less negative?

    May 3, 2012 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  22. Democrat Class Warfare - Destroying the economy, destroying the country

    Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer
    The GOP and their Tea Party didn't win the midterm because they have a better plan for America's future! No, they were successful simply because their outrageous propaganda, their shared deceitfulness and their fear mongering tactics all went unchallenged by the cowering Democratic Party!
    ==============================================================================================
    Believe whatever soothes your poor delusional mind darling. When the American people send the rest of the leftist Democrat Party packing in November you can make something else up to explain it, because of course it couldn't be the American people don't want any more of your leftist BS failure.

    May 3, 2012 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  23. swisscottage

    Rudy in NYC – the "overwhelming majority" were paid for by conservatives? Perhaps they were, I don't know. But you don't know either. Do you run a media consultancy that studies these things? Do you monitor commercials in all the markets around the US? Do you blindly believe information provided by liberal media sources? Your comment is pathetic. Share your thoughtless, uninformed comments somewhere else.

    May 3, 2012 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  24. Emperor Vadik, CA

    ...put the Republicans on a deserted island...

    ...and FREE the world...

    May 3, 2012 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  25. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    For the GOP, delusional minds are a terrible thing to waste, so they recycle them by watching Hanoi Hannity, listening to Mao Limbaugh, and Bagdad Beck.

    May 3, 2012 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
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