“In this election cycle, things are already so negative, it’s hard to imagine that there’s much room for them to get more negative between now and November,” election expert Stephen Farnsworth told Gene Emery of the Projo’s Politifact team as he investigated the veracity of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s assertion that negative advertisements have increased since the Citizens United decision.
It’s true, Emery discovered. Campaign advertising has gotten more negative since the Supreme Court allowed anonymous donors to pretty much put whatever they want on TV without having to stand behind the statement.
In fact, it’s exponentially true.
In 2008, from January through April just over 9 percent of presidential campaign TV ads were negative. In 2012, during the same time period, the percentage ballooned to 70 percent. That’s a 678 percent increase, the result of which means almost three quarters of all TV commercials about the presidential campaign are beating up on the opponent!
Emery is right to point out that the increase in negative campaigning isn’t soley the result of the Citizens United decision (though he’s wrong, I think, to suggest that Whitehouse indicated that was the case). Unlike SuperPACS candidates still have to stand behind the messages they broadcast on TV (though I’m sure Justice Scalia is salivated at the opportunity to give them the right to smear their competition anonymously) and their TV ads are getting more negative too, though they only got more negative by a paltry 489 percent.
During the first four months of the 2008 campaign, 9 percent of candidates’ TV ads were negative, just like the overall number from the other study Emery cited. This year, they jumped up to 53 percent.
Who knows … maybe we’ve all just run out of good things to say.