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Posted by on Oct 27, 2006 in At TMV | 41 comments

Negative Campaigning… This Year’s Story

Michael Grunwald notices at the Washington Post that most political ads are extremely negative. Even for American standards that is.

Please read the entire article.

What I noticed was that it started off with 1 1/3 page about Republican ads, then just 2 short paragraphs about Democratic ads, accompanied by the words “Some Democrats are playing rough, too.”

It’s almost like… ‘ah well.. boys will be boys’ when talking about the Democrats but condemning the Republican party on the other hand.

And after those 2 paragraphs? Another 1 1/3 page pointing out how terribly vicious the Republican ads are.

It’s not even close to objectivity.

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  • Anonymous Jim

    Not even close to objectivity? Have you done exhaustive research for the cycle which demonstrates that the parties are being equally negative? From where I sit (Ohio), (and this is anecdotal) the Republicans seem to be more negative but then again they aren’t used to even having to run ads here.

  • CaseyL

    I see that you, too, buy into the “false equivalency” logical phallacy gig.

    The reason media coverage of negative ads is “not even close” when it comes to noting Demcoratic slime is because the Democrats are “not even close” to being as offensive as the Republicans.

    Go ahead: try to find the Democratic equivalent of the anti-Michael J Fox commentary. Try finding the Democratic equivalent of the “Vote Democrat and Die” RNC ad. Try finding the Democratic equivalent of any GOP negative ad.

    Report back. I’ll wait here.

  • Elrod

    There’s a reason the post is so focused on the Republican ads; their ads are MUCH more personally negative than the Democratic ads. And the GOP telegraphed this strategy a month ago when they said 90% of their ads would be negative. That’s what you do when you’ve run out of ideas.

  • Oh please. Check out how Grunwald used a seperate * for every Republican ad he mentioned and how he only used TWO examples of Democratic ads, not mentioned in different points, just in one paragraph, very summarized, with an intro that’s ridiculous.

    Believe me, when someone writes an article like that, in that manner, it’s purposefully.

  • I have criticized the GOP, severely, in 3 of my 4 posts today but this WaPo article…

  • Matt

    Well duhhhhh…

    Of course Republicans are more negative. They are the incumbents. The public as a whole is angry with the incumbents. They are obviously in a crappy position, and the only way they can win is by tarring the other side so bad, nobody will want to vote for EITHER candidate. This is not your best conjecture Mr. VDG. Just take here in Virginia. Almost all of Webb’s ads are positve. Whereas all of Allen’s ads are negative.

  • Rambie

    MvdG, because you’re not here in the States you aren’t subjected to the ads unless you seek them out. I’m not going to apologize for the WaPo article, but just make two points:

    – This is the first year I can remember -here in Utah- where the GOP is running negative ads trying to scare people away from voting for Dems. As you may be aware, Utah is a very RED state. It surprises me they are spending money on ads here in Utah, but maybe it’s just overflow.

    – The GOP has more money for campaign ads. Could the WaPo article be spending more time on the GOP because there are more negative GOP ads out there?

    We usually don’t see many campaign ads here in Utah because the Dems can’t afford them and the GOP doesn’t need to. So I can’t say who’s been running most of the negative ads.

  • Michael,

    I don’t think you quite get what’s happening here.

    The problem the Democrats have had for years is that they approach government based on reality and intellect. That approach has been difficult to sell to the general populace, it’s too theoretical for the guy on the street.

    On the otherhand, the ReThugs are very good at coining a phrase (“Stay the Course”) that may not mean much, but rings the chimes for Joe Six-pack.

    If you notice, the negative ReThug ads embody innuendo without much, if any, fact. The Democratic negative ads refer to real-life, negative, facts about the opponent. Thus the emphasis of the article.

  • Doctor Gonzo

    Michael, as many commenters have already pointed out, it’s not a balanced article because the topic itself isn’t balanced. There are lots more negative Republican ads out there, without question. So why shouldn’t the article point that out?

    If the Washington Post wrote an article on the debate between whether the Earth was round or flat, would you demand that they present both sides equally? Or would you demand that they point out the evidence is, well, pretty much overwhelming in proving that the Earth is round. Which is more “objective”?

    Besides, who cares? If you want to read an article that says that Democrats are just as bad, or worse, go to Fox News, World Net Daily, or any of the number of right-wing sites out there.

  • Jim S


    I live in one of the states being subjected to the greatest barrage of ads, Missouri. In addition I live in the border city of Kansas City so I see ads for both Missouri and Kansas races. I see them constantly. Please believe me, when it comes to personal attacks and negativity the Republican ads are beating the Democratic ones, hands down. It’s no contest.

  • Kim Ritter

    MvdG Actually this article brings to mind another WaPo article which outlined the Repubs strategy: Spend 90% of campaign funds on negative ads which would blanket the airwaves the last three weeks before the election. Looks as though things are going as planned.

    You may not see American TV where you are, but you can go to and see for yourself who is slinging more mud.

  • Ryan

    Before deciding whether WaPo is being objective, consider the opening of the latest article from

    Both political parties are functioning in the 2006 House races as factories for attack ads, but the National Republican Campaign Committee’s work stands out this year for the sheer volume of assaults on the personal character of Democratic House challengers.

    The ads being aired by both the NRCC and its rival, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, are overwhelmingly negative. However, the DCCC ads generally attack Republican candidates on policy issues or their performance in office – accusing them of casting votes favorable to drug or oil companies, or of supporting President Bush’s unpopular policies in Iraq or on Social Security. We’ve recently criticized factual inaccuracies we’ve seen in some of those, and we’ll have more to say in a later article. Here we focus on the NRCC’s ads, which are much more likely to demean an opponent’s character. That’s the very definition of political mudslinging.

  • The Republicans ran a radio ad again Harold Ford Jr., a black man, that used JUNGLE DRUMS every time they mentioned his name.

    You won’t find anything the Democrats did that even comes close to that. You won’t find it anywhere.

    CaseyL is right, your complaint is a simple matter of “false equivalency.” Sometimes the one side is wrong and if the media is being objective they have to say that.

  • SnarkyShark

    If the Washington Post wrote an article on the debate between whether the Earth was round or flat, would you demand that they present both sides equally?

    This appears to be your outlook Michael.

  • Rubyeyes

    It’s not even close to objectivity.

    How can you say that when you don’t even live here? There is nothing biased about calling the kettle black.

    I don’t consider it negative advertising when someone points out failed policies or points out your opponent supports something you don’t.

  • dan

    Believe me, when someone writes an article like that, in that manner, it’s purposefully.

    yes. but in a different way than you think.

    you see, the media here is so afraid of itself nowadays. it basically lives in fear of being labeled part of the (nonexistant) liberal media conspiracy. so muhc so, that it is over correcting, as evidenced here. he mentioned democrats simply out of fear of being labeled biased.

    i dunno how much time you spend in the states… but uh, seriously. this is something you kinda gotta be here to be able to speak about. you’ve gotta watch tv and get the full effect of how many times you see the negative ones, and who’s putting them up. it could even be that there are as many negative D ads as there are R ones, which i seriously doubt, but the Rs could be running them more often.

    lotta stuff you’re missin’ here.

  • Randal

    Hmm i find myself at a loss. Although i am appalled at the fact that the ratio in the article is about 5:1 Rep:Dem but i can also see where the commenters are comming from. I on the other hand do not feel MvdG living out of this country effects his judgement. If anything it impartializes his opinion to a greater degree because the outcome of the election doesnt affect him like it does here for us.

    I live in alabama, currently the only ads being played here are for state elections. I live in the district where Mike Rogers represents (taking over from Bob Riely our governer now) and hes not up for re-election. But also, i know one of our senators is up for re-election and i havent seen any GOP or Dem ads about it. The thing with the negativity is the necessity of it.

    Commenters are right, Republicans have more of a need to run negative ads against democrats in order to maintain power. But on the other hand ive done research into democrat ads and found many of them to be worse then republican ads. WaPo has always been considered a “liberal” (main left-oreiented) newspaper in the eyes of me and the people i live with here in alabama. So to expect anything less then: dmonizing republicans while only painting democrats as “wrong” is expected out of that newspaper.

    Are republicans running more negative ads? YES
    Are Democrats running more positive ads? YES

    No matter how bad the democrat ads ive seen have been, its only 30seconds out of a 4 minute ad thats negative, the rest of the time is spent explaining the goals of the canidate. On the other side, ive found republican ads to give no goals as to what they plan to do in office except “stay the course” (couldnt resist using the phrase sorry). So MvdG, although i see where you are getting at i find republican ads to be more negative oriented, although democrats have as many negative ads out there as republicans do, its just to the degree they extend the negativity which causes the difference.

    Also, attacking a canditate’s character is not invalid in elections. I would like to know if the person running for office is some sex-crazed pedifiler who throws parties for little boys in his basement then makes them put on lotion. On the other hand i dont want to know what happened to Mr X’s dog when he left for 4 days out of the week and forgot to leave water. I mean honestly i really dont think thats relavent.

    Adhominin (spelling is off i know and im sorry) attacks should be used by both parties in where it relates to the election. Example:

    I dont want a christian government so me knowing that Mike Rogers actively supports the ten commandments in courthouses, and school prayer focused on christian teachings lets me understand where mike rogers stands on this issue. This is a personal attack because you are attacking his beliefs in order to sway votes. But telling me mike rogers killed his dog because of neglect then alluding that he will neglect americans is just rediculous.

    So which party does which type of personal attacks? Both do both

    Conclusion: Republicans are throwing more negative ads out there because of their desire to maintain power, its what i call “scare politics”

    Democrats are throwing negative ads along with information about the changes they would make because no politician isnt going to utilize a fault of his opponent, if the politican does he will most surely lose. its the nation we live in.

    Both assume power through fear and hatred, and untill we the people fix what drives us to the election booths this wont change.

    always a student,

  • Charles Jordan

    Randal There’s a poem that says proclaiming yourself a Christain don’t mean perfection. But good luck to your guy Rogers. Sure sounds like he’s figured out what to say to get elected

  • Elrod

    There are negative ads, and there are sleazy ads. Negative ads criticize votes or positions of their opponents. Sleazy ads attack the character of the opponent, usually with wild distortions of actual behavior (Arcuri) or position (Kind). It’s akin to the classic Sean Hannityesque “Why do you hate America?” style of advertising, many of these are merely meant to drive up their own base. What they really do is turn voters off and drive up the opposition’s base. The Corker ad is a perfect example. When the ads were first aired, Corker seemed to move up in the polls. The ads achieved their intended purpose. But when critics pointed out that the white bimbo was obviously a reference to interracial sex, and Corker backed away from the ad, the public shifted toward Ford. Or more like, moderates shifted toward Ford and blacks got motiviated to vote.

  • Jim S

    OK, Elrod, then in that case in Missouri Talent and company run sleazy ads while McCaskill and friends run negative ones.

    Then there’s the comedic ones where Talent claims to be an independent candidate. This from the man who votes for Bush’s programs 94% of the time.

  • Randal

    How many of you realize that these negative and sleazy ads are because thats what the majority wants to see. I mean campaigning is exactly like advertising. You will not advertise in a way that doesnt help you. Although all of us hate negative ads, what about the other 250million voters out there. The root cause for these ads isnt the politicians, its us the voters. focus groups and/or surveys are taken before a campaign ad is even thought of. Honestly. We can complain till the cows come home about all these negative ads, but whats the point. Its us against the majority of voters and who do you think politicians are going to cater to.

    So how do we stop negative ads? well we cant. There is nothing u or i can do to stop politicians from promoting negative ads. All we can do is hope for politicians to take the survey’s and focus group conclusion and throw them away and run his campaign clean and consise. But as i stated before, if you dont go negative with your opponent going negative you will lose the race. Honor has died in america and so has propiety.

    Oh and remember, these politicians live and work for re-election and nothing else. Also we are to blame for that.

    Want to stop negative ads? then change a politicians job from re-election to duty to country and you will see a certain change in campaigning.

    always a student,

    PS: the example of mike roger’s christian views and pet care are hypothetical, when mike rogers was voted into office i was still under the age so i didnt bother learning about him. I just used those examples with a represenative that isnt up for re-election.

    thank you

  • Kim Ritter

    Randal- You can do something. You can contact the party office and complain that you find the ad misleading or offensive. If enough do, the ad will be pulled. I notice that the Playboy bunny ad for Harold Ford was pulled, even after both his opposition and the party chairman said that it was out of their hands to pull the ad. The consultant who came up with the idea was fired by Walmart. The ad was offensive and I found it borderline racist- so I’m happy that they pulled it- not that the replacement was that much better.

    There’s one ad on now that accuses a Democratic candidate of paying to find out how much older people masturbate. It turned out he had voted for a bill that granted research money to NIH-but the ad made him sound like a disgusting pervert.

  • Tony S

    So, how ’bout it MvdG? Can you perhaps admit that you didn’t quite know what you were talking about when you made this post?

  • SurgeJack

    Randal, I don’t get it. How can you be appalled for people coming to the same conclusions that you come to?

    Michael, isn’t it showing a bit of personal bias on your end to automatically believe Republicans are being disproportionately hit by the media when you read an article like that, despite the facts supporting an article like that?

  • C Stanley

    The other day I asked for people to point out over the top negative ads, since I don’t watch much TV so don’t really see much of the advertising that’s going on. Well, I guess the WaPo heard my request LOL.

    I wouldn’t doubt that there are a lot more Republican negative ads, partly because they have more money to spend. I also wouldn’t be surprised if an objective look at all ads would show that there are more personal attacks (ie, mudslinging) in the Republican ads; I think that’s probably true in most ads directed by an incumbent against a challenger. If you’re the incumbent, you can’t campaign against the record of your opponent. I think we’d all agree that the right thing to do would be to campaign positively on your own record, but that rarely happens even in the best of campaign seasons and it’s certainly no surprise that the current batch of Republican incumbents don’t have the kind of record that they can win reelection on.

    I think it would be interesting to see stats on this, to see if my theory is correct: is there historically a preponderance of personal attack ads against challengers as opposed to negative ads against incumbents being more in the vein of negative slant to the candidate’s positions and voting record? Does anyone know if this has ever been studied?

  • Isidora

    Christine, I have no idea if that has ever been studied, but I would love to see the stats as well. I definitely agree with your theory, but there is one nuance that needs to be recognized. Non-incumbents often do have a record that can be attacked, because they have often held some other office.

    As for an incumbent campaigning on their own record, I haven’t seen the local ads for mayor, but I have read an interview with each of the candidates done by the local newspaper. The challenger seems to be campaigning against the incumbent’s record as well as on issues. (Actually, his problem with her record seems to be quite issues-oriented.) The incumbent would appear to be campaigning solely on her record. In the interview, she was asked how she rates her term as mayor. She gave it an A+, twice. The lack of humility in that assessment troubles me.

    SurgeJack wrote:

    Michael, isn’t it showing a bit of personal bias on your end to automatically believe Republicans are being disproportionately hit by the media when you read an article like that, despite the facts supporting an article like that?

    Nah, I really don’t think that it’s his personal bias showing; I think it’s his nationality. If you’re not actually over here and seeing the ads, it must be very difficult to assess the situation.

    I remember during the ’04 election seeing the dirtiest of the tactics coming from Republicans, but maybe my view is skewed somewhat because one of my senators is more or less varifiably a genuine ass, to judge from his behavior during the campaign. He made fun of his opponent’s Italian heritage and also intimated that he was gay. I believe that he also failed to show up for a debate.

    Michael, you have an astonishing amount of knowledge of the U.S. Is that normal in the Netherlands, or are you unusual?

  • The distinction made here in the comments between “negative” and “sleazy” is useful. There’s a world of difference between attacking a politician’s record and spreading personal innuendo.

    How can we expect anything better from the Republican Party? The perfector of dirty tricks and vile rumors (my office was bugged by the Democrats, John McCain’s love child, Swift Boat Veterans for Slander) is considered a genius, “the architect,” by his party.

  • Jim S

    Well, the Talent attack ads against McCaskill only mention her history as a prosecutor once, saying that she couldn’t have been a good prosecutor since during her term in office Jackson County was the Meth Capital of America. Of course, here’s a take on how useful that reference is.

    Then of course there is the Kansas City Star’s reaction to Talent’s ads. Here’s an interesting endorsement of McCaskill by the Columbia Tribune. Columbia, for the many of you who know nothing about Missouri is a moderate sized city halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis right on I-70. While it is the location of the main campus of the University of Missouri and has several smaller colleges there is more to it than a college town and it is not known for its raging liberalism.

  • You people are hilarious. I did enjoy the “phallacy,” too. I guess that’s a lie based on the size of a certain body part?

  • Kim Ritter

    Cindy ROSS,
    You hit the nail on the head. Bush took Rove off his posiition on policy at the WH, so that he could devote full time to the RNC’s 2006 campaign. I guess that’s how Republican candidates can claim that they have no control over the ads. It just kills me that the right wing Republicans continue to consider themselves the party of family values, yet the sleaziest guy in their party has devoted himself to digging up the dirt on the Democrats with no holds barred—the truth no longer matters-just victory. The WH obviously wants the boss to have two more years of avoiding congressional hearings and oversight.

  • Davebo

    I suppose the writer woud have been much more objective if he’d just made up some stories about democratic attack ads.

    Of course, it would have required a lot of work, developing those fictional democrat candidates, filming fake attack ads, etc.

    But hey, we need to be even handed here. I’d note that they also never tell us about all the good things Manson did.

  • Nick

    I also agree that the distinction between “negative” and “sleazy” is useful. Here in Maryland, Michael Steele (Republican) has had a clever-on-the-surface series of ads where he (first preemptively, and then afterwards) warned against all the “negative attacks” that the Dems are going to sling at him. Yet the “attack ads” that Ben Cardin and the Dems have put forth do nothing more than Steele is a Republican, and has campaigned for Bush. I suppose these days that is a rather negative attack.:)

  • Pyst

    MvdG I live in a state that will be a cakewalk for the GOP, and yet they are even running these kinds of ads here when they assured of victory. That’s just how low the GOP is going Michael.

  • dittohead

    The Democrats are running tons of negative ads. All over the place you see Republicans associated with President Bush.

  • Wagner

    What are your thught, Michael? Come on over and experience the campaign first hand, then you can judge whether or not the GOP is over the top negative.

  • Michael? Michael? Where are you Michael?

    As we say in Florida, have you let your alligator mouth overload your mockingbird ass?

    You threw this silliness out, do you have the balls to respond?

  • Rudi

    EF Don’t challege him on the Iranian computer virus scare – LOL.

  • the reason I am not responding is that I already made my point quite clearly. The majority of you all don’t seem to understand what my point is.

  • CaseyL

    Michael, when everyone who responds to a post points out that your thesis is in error, the problem is not with our reading comprehension.

    What was your thesis? That coverage of negative ads is unbalanced in favor of Democrats. The clear inference is that you believe Democrats are “just as guilty” as Republicans and that the MSM is biased in not pointing this out.

    But that’s just not true. Objectively not true. It is objectively not true because the Democrats have not, in fact, gone negative as much as the GOP has, neither in kind nor in degree.

    Your only hope of salvaging your point is to concede what other posters have suggested: that you make no distinctions between ads that attack a candidate’s or Party’s record, political point of view, and statements reflecting that point of view and those which are personal smears.

    Example: Attacking Michael J Fox’s advocacy of ESCR by saying blastocysts are human beings vs. attacking Fox by saying he’s faking his symptoms. Both attacks are idiotic and false. But the former at least addresses ESCR itself; the latter is a personal smear that has nothing to do with ESCR.

    Example: A Democratic ad attacks a Republican candidate for supporting Bush’s Iraq War, because the war really is FUBAR and Iraq really is in a civil war and the GOP really did support Bush every step of the way. The Republican attacks the Democrat by saying “the Democrats are objectively pro-terrorism.” The former bases its attack on things that really happened and people who were really responsible for them. The latter makes an incendiary claim with no facts to back it up; i.e., a smear.

  • Casey I would never insinuate that it has something to do with your reading comprehension. It does have something to do with interpretation. You write:

    The clear inference is that you believe Democrats are “just as guilty” as Republicans and that the MSM is biased in not pointing this out.

    While that’s not my point.

    My point is not that they are ‘just as bad’. My point is that 2/2/3 against 1/3 page is a bit exaggerating it. That is my point. Also: if they have such a problem with vicious attacks like that, the article should not use the almost ‘boys will be boys’ approach when, shortly, talking about the Democrats. The author should have pointed that out as well.

    I do not say that the Democrats are just as bad. I say that if you have a problem with ads like that, you should approach it without a clear bias. When I read the article, I am very aware that the author intents to focus on the Republicans and belittles the (perhaps less in amount but they are still there) vicious attacks of the Democrats in their ads.

    It is quite sad that most of you don’t seem to understand the bias at work. This was no objective reporting.

  • Pyst

    “My point is not that they are ‘just as bad’. My point is that 2/2/3 against 1/3 page is a bit exaggerating it. That is my point.”

    Michael, you’d really have to be here to believe what is going on. We aren’t piling on you for fun, the fact is that it is that big of difference in reality. And a reporter doing his utmost best to level the story just can’t make up the difference unless he was running counter ads on his own personal time to make it so.

    As I said my own state solidly backing the GOP natinally (why I don’t have a clue) has this very thing taking place even where they are politically safe. It’s like a virus that has made them beyond mean or something.

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