Thanks SuperPACs! Negative Political Ads Up 70 Percent

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Seven out of ten political ads have been negative during the 2012 election cycle. It's a far cry from 2008, when only one in ten ads attacked candidates by name — and when interest groups weren't funding the majority of political ads.

According to a new study by the Wesleyan Media Project, about 91 percent of political advertising was positive during the 2008 cycle, and only about 9 percent was negative, meaning the ad directly mentioned an opponent. Ninety-one percent of advertising funded by candidates was positive, compared to 75 percent of ads funded by outside interest groups.

But this year is a whole new ball game. Advertising is overwhelmingly negative, and overwhelmingly paid for by interest groups.

Candidates' ads are now 53 percent negative, and interest group ads, including those bought by SuperPACs, are a whopping 86 percent negative.

"With the rise of interest group activity, which we knew we were going to have this cycle, we expected it to be more negative," said Erika Frankling Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Fowler said it all comes back to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which did away with limits on contributions to, and spending by, third party organizations that remain technically unaffiliated with a candidate. Since the decision, SuperPACs have found their niche as a sort of shadow war chest for attack ads.

"That really makes sense from a candidate's perspective," Fowler said. "If you know there will be some backlash to you sponsoring a negative ad, then it's better for you if the negativity is 'outsourced' to a third party."

Sixty percent of all advertising in 2012 has been paid for by SuperPACs and other interest groups. In 2008, they accounted for only three percent.

Crossroads GPS, a SuperPAC that supports Republican candidates, has produced the most ads and spent the most money on advrtising of any organization — candidate, party, or otherwise — in the 2012 cycle. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, they've been responsible for about 17,000 ads, which is about as many as Barack Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee combined.


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Comments [5]

Rhonda Mendes

I believe the negative ads have gotten out of control in regards to our political campaigning. Whenever I hear or see these commercials on the radio or television, it makes it easier for me to decide who will ultimately NOT get my vote. I refuse to cast my vote for someone that needs to makes the other candidate look worse than themselves. It always makes me think, what are they hiding? If the candidate feels the needs to smear their opponents name in order to get elected or even re-elected then what have they truly accomplished? Candidates need to be more worried about the positive things they can do to help our country and be less involved in having the PAC’s do their dirty work regarding the smear campaigns. They need to look in the mirror each and every day, and I don’t understand how they can live with themselves knowing the fall out of the negative political ads.

“Many politicians freely admit – once they are out of office – that it is a myth to think the PAC’s don’t want something in return….….multiply this by the thousands of special interests that are organized today, and the worst fears of the hyperpluralists could be realized – a government that constantly yields to every special interest”. (Page 335)

The saying is, “There is no such thing as a free lunch” is very true, especially today. These candidates need to open their eyes and realize there is always an ulterior motive for the PAC’s to do what they do in regards to the negative ads, they always want something in return and this is typically not always in our countries best interest.

Aug. 02 2012 12:07 PM

"Thanks SuperPACs!"
Yeah, thanks First Amendment for free political speech.

May. 06 2012 10:20 PM

There is an implied point that Super-PACs are run or managed by the political candidates. While certainly a plausible possibility and I supspect in some cases there is more truth to the possibility than would be consisent with honorable, patriotic and American value-oriented behavior. And since we are talking about politicians, political parties and their partisan puppets the American people have come to expect and accept this from their august leaders. However, I would postulate that the facts are that the politican are not running the SuperPACs. Rather, the SuperPACs are just the latest incarnation of the special-interest entities that run the candidates. Controlling the media and the message, framing the issues as disingenuously as serves their purposes is no more than the free speech of the well-positioned.

You can not fault the SuperPACs. They are not held accountable or responsible for their efforts, they don't have to be concerned about people knowning who they are or what they want, and they can reap their rewards if successful many times over from the public treasury. This is what the Founding Fathers intended when they sought to establish a free and democratic nation. This is what the American sons and daughters pledged and gave their lives in defense of that we all praise so proudly. SuperPACs are the ultimate realization of those who wish to serve the public that they so desperately want to return something to from what they have achieved under a free society.

So dig deep and contribute as much as you can to as many SuperPACs as you can find. They need your money desperately. They need your money to help insure that your interests are provided for. They need your money, and they need it more than you do.

May. 05 2012 04:41 PM

Osborne, both good questions.

Per your first, my initial reaction was the same. But consider the context in which an opponent's name would appear in a candidate's ad. Would it ever be positive?

Per your second, it's a fantastic point, and one we hope to follow up on in the not-too-distant future. You would need some evidence that communication actually took place between campaign and interest group, and one didn't just assume a change in the other's spending habits post-Citizens.

Hope this helps.

May. 03 2012 05:49 PM
Osborne from USA

Simply mentioning the name of your opponent qualifies an ad as negative? A definition that expansive kind of renders this study meaningless right? At a minimum it undermines the shock value of the headline.

The more interesting point to me is the transformation of WHO is advertising. Table 2 of the study shows the explosion of interest group ads vs the massive decline of candidate ads. I find it funny given the fact that candidates can't coordinate with the superpacs. How do the Superpacs know what to say or are candidates comfortable letting shadowy interest groups determine and disseminate their messages for them? I suspect there must be some other explanation...

May. 03 2012 01:10 PM

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