In Wake Of Citizens United, Negative Campaign Ads Are Way Up

If you feel like you’ve seen an exceptional number of negative campaign ads — think black and white images, booming voices, and terrifying statistics — you aren’t alone. It turns out that this year’s presidential campaign season has been the most negative on record with 70 percent negative ads, according to a new Wesleyan Media Project study.

But it isn’t the candidates alone who are suddenly flinging mud. While the use of negative ads by the candidates has spiked (it was 8.6 percent in 2008, and it’s 52.5 percent this time around), the bigger change is in outside group’s campaigns, which have grown enormously according to Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project:

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… But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates’ own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn.

There’s a big reason for the increased involvement, and that’s Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that said outside groups can spend an unlimited amount of money on campaigns as long as they don’t “coordinate” with the candidate. That decision led to the advent of Super PACs, groups whose sole purpose it to spend money attacking their opponents and lauding the candidates they support. The results of the Super PAC campaign era are clear: In 2008, only 25.2 percent of outside group ads were negative — but today, 86 percent are.