Study: 2008 Race More Negative Than 2004

Candidates, not Groups, Doing the Heavy Lifting on Attack Ads

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- If it seems that this year's political contest is more negative than 2004, it's not just your imagination.

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 Sen. Barack Obama last week -- combined with the 34% of Mr. Obama's messages attacking Sen. John McCain -- means that negative ads this time are outpacing those of four years ago in the race between President George W. Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

During that race, 64% of the Bush campaign ads were negative vs. 34% from the Kerry campaign. Overall, 73% of the McCain campaign's ads have been negative, vs. 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 the political parties. So far this year, the candidates are doing far more of their own ads.

The latest report from the advertising project said the Obama campaign is continuing to dominate ad spending with its tally, including nearly $17.5 million spent from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, vs. nearly $11 million by the McCain camp and the Republican National Committee. Part of the dominance, though, may have been because Mr. McCain suspended his camapign. He resumed normal ad schedules Sept. 29.

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

The Obama campaign has been outspending his GOP rival 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 15 states last week got advertising from both candidates and 10 were states won by the Mr. Bush 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 his opponent spent $1.6 million, according to the study.
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