Study: 2010 political ads set record in negativity

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The 2010 elections not only set a record for the sheer volume of political ads that appeared on TV sets across the U.S., but also for the negativity of those commercials, according to an analysis of data compiled by Wesleyan University researchers.

More than half of the TV spots for congressional and gubernatorial candidates that aired after Sept. 1, typically considered the start of the general election campaign season, were judged to be purely negative ads that attacked the opposing candidate. Slightly more than 20 percent were considered to be contrast ads, which mention both the opposing and favored candidate.

Only 26 percent of the ads were purely positive for the candidate airing them.

“The biggest factor driving negativity is competition,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. Fowled noted that 2010 featured at least twice as many competitive races compared to a typical midterm election year, with control of Congress up for grabs.

“In an extremely competitive year

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.