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The Media Narrative on McCain's Negativity

2:56 PM, Oct 16, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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During last night's debate, Obama claimed that all of John McCain's ads have been negative:

Obama: And 100 percent, John, of your ads -- 100 percent of them have been negative.

McCain: It's not true.

Obama: It absolutely is true. And, now, I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.

But professor Ken Goldstein of the Wisconsin Advertising Project issues a statement that the candidates have aired about the same amount of negative ads:

from June 4 to October 4, we found that 47 percent of the McCain spots were negative (completely focused on Obama), 26 percent were positive (completely focusing on his own personal story or on his issues or proposals) and 27 percent were contrast ads (a mix of positive and negative messages).

But what about Obama? Our analysis reveals that 39 percent of all general election Obama TV ads have been positive (solely about his record, positions or personal story), 35 percent have been negative (solely focused on McCain) and 25 percent have been contrast ads - mixing a bit of both. So, on a proportional basis, the McCain campaign is and has been more negative than Obama.

But, Obama has aired over 50,000 more ads than McCain. So, hasn't he simply aired more of everything - including negative ads - than McCain has this year, or than anyone in history, as McCain may have alleged?

If one just looks at pure airings of negative ads, McCain has aired more than Obama. If one allocates contrast ads as half positive and half negative or considers contrast ads as negative - as the Advertising Project does - the tone of the McCain and Obama campaigns has been absolutely identical.