Fowler: Negativity Ruled 2010 Election Ads

David PesciJanuary 17, 20113min
Federal races had most negative ads in decades, but researchers say this isn't necessarily a bad thing

A recent report in The Washington Post cites a new study by The Wesleyan Media project that, among other things, found that 2010 campaign season was the most negative in recent years. The study, “Advertising Trends in 2010,” by Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government and director of The Wesleyan Media Project, and Travis Ridout, associate professor of political science, Washington State University and co-director of The Wesleyan Media Project, was published in The Forum, a Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics. While a lot of discussion about the negative tone of the ads and campaigns occurred during and after the election, Fowler and Ridout point out in their study that negative ads are not necessarily a bad thing with regards to elections:

“One nontrivial benefit of record spending and record airings this cycle is that many voters, whether they liked it or not, were undoubtedly exposed to more campaign information than in previous election cycles and therefore were more likely to make informed choices at the ballot box…The unprecedented negativity in 2010 may also have some good consequences. For instance, Geer (2006) shows that negative ads are actually more likely to talk about policy issues, and thus negative ads may be informative ads. Negative ads may also raise the stakes, motivating people to get out and vote.”

Additional reports on the research were done by Politico, NPR, The News Hour (second item), Forbes, The Daily Caller, and Fox News, among several others.

A second study by Michael Franz, co-director of The Wesleyan Media Project, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College, found that the effect of the Citizens United case, which allowed corporations, unions and outside interest groups more direct participation in political ads, was not as widespread or pervasive as intimated by many reports.