In Depth

Election Ads More Negative Than in 2004

It is apparently official that this year’s political ads in the presidential race are more negative that those that ran four years ago—at least the political ads from the candidates themselves.

The Wisconsin Advertising Project of the University of Wisconsin is reporting today that the McCain campaign’s decision to turn 100% of its advertising messages to negative attacks on Barack Obama last week, combined with the 34% of Obama’s messages attacking McCain, means that the negative ads this time are outpacing those four years ago in the race between George W. Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

During that race 64% of the Bush campaign ads were negative versus 34% for the Kerry campaign. This time, with more money being spent, 73% of the McCain campaign’s ads to date are negative, versus 61% of the Obama campaign’s ads.

How many more negative ads the public is actually seeing is less clear. In 2004, a number of the negative attacks came either from independent groups or in some cases the political parties, while so far this year the candidates are doing far more of their own ads. The Obama campaign’s decision to forgo federal financing and its spending limits has meant it’s doing the kind of ads the Democratic Party did last time.

The latest report from the advertising project said the Obama campaign continues to dominate ad spending with its tally including nearly $17.5 million from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, versus nearly $11 million spent by the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee. Part of the imbalance, though, may have been because the McCain campaign cut back on ads as Mr. McCain focused on working on the bailout. His campaign resumed normal ad schedules Sept. 29.

Ten states got the most money last week with Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado and Wisconsin topping the list for both candidates. The Obama campaign also spent heavily in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, where the McCain campaign spent less. Only in Minnesota and Iowa was the McCain campaign outspending the Obama campaign.

The Obama campaign has been outspending the McCain campaign by 3 to 1 in Florida, 2 to 1 in New Hampshire, 8 to 1 in North Carolina and 3 to 1 in Virginia.

Ken Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project, said that 15 states last week got advertising from both candidates and 10 were states won by the Bush campaign four years ago.

The McCain campaign late last week said it was pulling advertising in Michigan. It had spent $1.3 million on the state last week, while the Obama campaign spent $1.6 million, according to the study.