Negative Ads: A Shift in Tone for the 2012 Campaign

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With only 16 weeks until the November election, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are on track to fuel one of most negative presidential campaigns in recent history — whether voters want it or not. According to Kantar Media, which tracks political advertising, 89% of Obama’s ads in recent weeks featured an anti-Romney message, while 94% of Romney’s ads critiqued Obama.

Past campaigns have featured their fair share of punches, but 2012 is setting an unprecedented tone. After Obama suggested Romney might be a potential felon last week, the two candidates ratcheted up their rhetoric. Romney countered by calling the attacks on his tenure at Bain “reckless,” “absurd,” and “beneath the dignity of the presidency.” In an interview with ABC News, Romney demanded an apology: “He sure as heck ought to say that he’s sorry for the kinds of attacks that are coming from his team.”

Both campaigns have also released a slew of new attack ads, including two of the most hard-hitting spots to date:

Romney’s ad is like the Inception of attack videos: He calls out Obama for using negative ads… within a negative ad of his very own. It opens with Obama delivering an idealistic speech to a Denver audience at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. “If you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters,” he says. “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from.” Meanwhile, headlines cut across the screen, such as one from Politico that reads: “Obama Plan: Destroy Romney.”

Team Obama hit right back with another bout of Bain attacks. Their latest ad is set to Romney’s out-of-tune rendition of “America the Beautiful,” and flashes quotes from news organizations accusing Romney of outsourcing jobs to Mexico, China, India and storing his money in off-shore accounts.

These two ads are only a small sampling of the increasing negativity that voters are seeing on their TV screens. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, in the spring of 2008, fewer than 1 in 10 presidential election ads were negative. During the same period this year, negative spots accounted for a staggering 7 out of 10 ads from Romney and Obama.

31 comments
Kay Conales
Kay Conales

And this is supposed be surprising? Come on. Meh.

Kay Conales
Kay Conales

And this is supposed to be surprising? Come on. Meh.

Scotty_A
Scotty_A

Romney is not doing so well. He got bained in the rear. Romney is the candidate of the GOP establishment that wants to outsource people's jobs to China, crashed the economy, and drove up the federal deficit.

Aaron Wemple
Aaron Wemple

Politics is now officially a beast of burden. No good for anybody, save selfish desires.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

How come the media is acting as though the negative ads began with Obama? Did the Republican primary not count? What happened to Newt? Right, Romney's SuperPAC destroyed him with a barrage of negative ads. What happened to Santorum? Another carpet bombing. Santorum wouldn't have lasted in the general and the Republican big boys were beginning to worry about that, but he fit right in with the primary crowd.

The media who allowed Romney to lie for months unchallenged at every campaign stop and in every ad now takes to their fainting couches? Please.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

Romney used the negative ad tactic very well to defeat his primary opponents state by state.  Now he has an opponent with the resources to go negative on him ... and it's working!

MrObvious
MrObvious

Efforts to require more public accounting of campaign money hit a new roadblock Monday evening in the form of a Republican filibuster that stopped the Senate from formally debating it.

GOP - not really interested in transparency; unlimited money in politics should remain in the backrooms.

But of course the record number filibusters is just to stop government over reach right?

http://www.democraticundergrou...

Don't worry tho - 'mobile office' tea partiers knows how to best put tax payer money to good use.

sacredh
sacredh

A rise in negative ads couldn't possibly have anything to do with the rise of the Tea Party, the Citizens United decision or the birther, socialist or Kenyan memes...could it?

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Everybody wants a fainting couch now, it seems...

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Maybe this reporter is interning under Scherer. A familiar MO with this post....

sacredh
sacredh

We've been laughing about it for almost 4 years now, but if Obama does get re-elected, I think there's a significant portion of the voters that aren't going to believe it. Even if the popular vote and electoral vote is by a pretty comfortable margin, the hatred for Obama is going to negate any reasonable conclusions that they should draw from the vote.

bobell
bobell

The Demos shut up rather quickly about the extraordinary way Dubya became president and certainly did not contest his actions on the basis that he did not hold the office legitimately.  Obama wins  in garden-variety fashion and the Republicals spend the next four years b!tching about it.

Further comment seems superfluous.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Here's a hint Nicole; since media loves the false equivalance he/she said and refuse to put money into real investigative reporting you get bare fist knuckle fights like these.

Of course media then rejoyce in the battle but lament the less then cordial arguments.

If media does their jobs and held each candidates feet to the fire there wouldn't be this blood sport events. But media today want the carnage while pretending that there's a moral outrage against it.

Where were media during the 99s, the tea party, the outright lies?

Finding false equivalance. They did it too.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

It's just as ugly as ever.  Only pre-month-and-a-half before Labor Day.

chupkar
chupkar

What happened? What happened is every GOP candidate was lying through their teeth and ran ads promoting such. So Obama is just supposed to lie down and take it? That's the same specious clap trap as whining "Boohoo, he promised to change the climate of Washington and DIDN'T DO IT" as though he alone was the key factor. The GOP decided not to play but instead decided to rub mud in every orifice they could. Just letting that slide DOES NOT WORK. It becomes a matter of do you just take it and smile or fight back. 

pollardty
pollardty

It's only unseemly after Dems start to fight back. 

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Agreed. It's as if the MSM's collective memory is that of a fruit fly.

If the steady noise of negative ads drowns out a Swiftboating attack, that's a good thing.

anon76returns
anon76returns

Speaking of swiftboating, I've worked with fruit flies and I can assure you that they have a longer memory than the collective political media.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Speaking of swiftboating, I've worked with fruit flies and I can assure you that they have a longer memory than the collective political media.

Yes, I wonder if the Wesleyan Media Project had picked the spring of 2004 (instead of 2008) as their baseline, they still would have found "fewer than 1 in 10 presidential election ads were negative"?

bobell
bobell

It's kinda hard to run positive ads when there's nothing positive you can say.  Obama can't really run on "Bad as things are, they'd have been worse without me," and Mitt can't really run on "Elect me and I'll raise taxes on the middle class while cutting them for the rich -- and oh, by the way, in my spare time I'm going to destroy Medicare and repeal health care for 50 million Americans."  Hope and change are passe, but so are the job creators.

So what's left?  Find a flaw in the armor and run a tank through it.  Obama's flaw is that he can't get the economy moving (never mind that a huge part of the responsibility belongs to the Republicans in Congress).  Romney and those PACs sympathetic to (but certainly unaffiliated with) him attack that flaw.  Romney's flaw is that as a vulture capitalist he proved to be, at least intermittently, a job destroyer, which the last time I looked was the antonym of "job creator." So Obama goes after him on that.  The Romney people quarrel with the individual notes of the Obama song, but the tune just keeps on playing: Romney destroys jobs, Romney outsources, Romney sends jobs overseas.

Even beyond the problem specific to this election, which is that neither candidate has a good positive campaign to run even if he wanted to, positive campaigns run into the obvious problem that anything positive one candidate says is just a target for the negativity of the other side.  Obama talks about the 4 million private sector jobs he created and gets all bogged down in statistics thrown out by Romney about job losses in his first few months (the post-Bush slide that continued until Obama's braking efforts finally engaged) and losses in the publics sector (mainly caused by Republican state governments) and the current unemployment figures (truly awful no matter who is resonsible for them).  Romney boasts of knowing how to run the economy and is countered with negatives about the job losses while he was governor, and of course the jobs destroyed by Bain.

I've mentioned some issues specific to this election, but this goes back a long way.  The swift-boating of John Kerry, the myth that Al Gore said he created the internet, Willie Horton, Carter's attacks on Reagan as irresponsible on international affairs. We have no official Truth Commission, and the volunteer fact checkers are proving to be worse than the disease.  Rachel Maddow is right -- we should fire them.

Our electoral process svcks. Short of amending the Constitution, however, and particularly now that we know that corporations are people and have the free-speech right to spend unlimited money on elections, we're stuck with what we've got. We will pay a severe price for it.

Pnnto
Pnnto

Any chance of linking to the Kantar Media report? I'm curious about the raw numbers rather than the percentages. Also "recent weeks" isn't really that helpful. 

anon76returns
anon76returns

Yeah, other than the 1 sentence mention o the Kantar report, there wasn't really anything to this post.  Who is Nicole Greenstein, anyway?  Are we being linked out of Swampland?  Is she a new swampland regular?  A guest Blogger?  Something else?

I wish whoever was running Swampland put a modicum of effort into the affair.

Truthfairy1
Truthfairy1

Mitt claims all Bain "outsourcing" took place AFTER he retroactively left the company in February 1999?

Gee, then I wonder what he'd call what happened in April amp; August of 1998 when, under CEO/President amp; Sole Shareholder, Mitt Romney, Bain paid millions for 10% of a Chinese manufacturing company that depended upon amp; profited from the outsourcing of US Jobs?

http://www.motherjones.com/pol...

Will Romney re-appear on 5 networks to announce his decision to "retroactively retire" from Bain on February 19. 1998, one year earlier than "originally retroactively planned"...and insist President Obama apologize for being so mean as to release fact and document-supported attack ads that actually tell the truth rather than rely on  the kind of whoppers we get daily from Mitt.

gysgt213
gysgt213

The local race ads are just as entertaining if not more.

SpaceChief
SpaceChief

No Ad necessary to hear all you need to hear in this 15 second choice bit of Mitt-in-Mouth disease - and he said it just last month http://soundcloud.com/space-ch... he sounds pretty positive in it to me!

chupkar
chupkar

Unbelievable. Yet he whines  about the Bain claims. You KNOW he knew and supported it.