Friday, January 14, 2011

2010 Ads Most Negative Ever, Study Concludes

From TownHall ~ The 2010 elections not only set a record for the sheer volume of political ads that appeared on TV sets across the U.S., but also for the negativity of those commercials, according to an analysis of data compiled by Wesleyan University researchers.

More than half of the TV spots for congressional and gubernatorial candidates that aired after Sept. 1, typically considered the start of the general election campaign season, were judged to be purely negative ads that attacked the opposing candidate.

Slightly more than 20 percent were considered to be contrast ads, which mention both the opposing and favored candidate. Only 26 percent of the ads were purely positive for the candidate airing them."The biggest factor driving negativity is competition," said Erika Franklin Fowler, an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Fowled noted that 2010 featured at least twice as many competitive races compared to a typical midterm election year, with control of Congress up for grabs.

"In an extremely competitive year ... it is not surprising that negativity increased," said Fowler.The Wesleyan Media Project, which involved researchers from Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn., Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., tracked and analyzed all of the broadcast TV ads that were aired by or on the behalf of federal and gubernatorial candidates in every media market in the country.

In an article published this week in the political science journal The Forum, Fowler and Travis N. Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project and an associate professor of political science at Washington State, determined that the 2010 congressional and gubernatorial ads were the most negative of the past decade.

They found 53.5 percent of ads during the 2010 election were identified as attack ads. That's compared to 44.9 percent in 2008; 32 percent in 2004; 31.9 percent in 2002 and 32.3 percent in 2000. Data were not available for 2006.

The researchers found Democrats were only slightly more positive than Republicans.

Campaign ads sponsored by the political parties tended to be the negative ones. Fowler and Ridout determined 96 percent of party ad airings were pure attack spots, while 87 percent of the airings sponsored by independent groups were negative.

The ads paid for by the candidates' campaigns were the most positive, but those campaigns still aired as many negative as positive commercials.

The media project did not track ads aired on local cable TV stations.

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