At one time or another, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich said they would try to focus all their attack energy on the incumbent president. Given that, the devolution into negativity toward each other in Florida has been particularly noticeable. Even if they hadn’t initially promised to keep it civil, though, this Florida campaign would have stood out. It’s tempting to excuse their attacks on each other as a return to what’s common for a primary — but, actually, this level of negativity isn’t as typical as you might think.
According to Campaign Media Analysis Group, an organization that tracks political ads in Florida, this campaign is the most negative on the books:
“I spent much of my academic career telling reporters, ‘Relax, this is not the most negative campaign ever,'” CMAG President Ken Goldstein said. “Well, this IS the most negative campaign ever.”
Numbers from CMAG show a total of 11,586 television spots aired in Florida between January 23 and January 29. Of those spots, 10,633 were negative and 953 were positive.
Of the 1,012 spots Newt Gingrich’s campaign ran, 95% were negative. Mitt Romney’s campaign ran 3,276 ads and 99% were negative.
The two super PACs supporting the top candidates were more divergent in their ad strategies. Restore our Future, supporting Romney, ran 4,969 spots, all of which were negative. The Gingrich-backing Winning our Future ran 1,893 spots, and only 53% were negative.
Correspondingly, the bulk of ads in Florida – 68% – were negative toward Gingrich. Twenty-three percent were anti-Romney spots. Gingrich got support from 9% of ads while pro-Romney spots accounted for less than 0.1%.
These stats are no reason to despair, though. The general election will likely also be one of the most negative in history — and that’s OK. This election is as much about what we don’t want as it is about what we do. Often, negativity is disparaged as a dearth of ideas. For some reason, it’s considered an insult to be “The Party of No” or to be the gridlocked Congress or to be the attack candidate. Michele Bachmann is proof of that. But frankly, the “least of the evils” might just be the guy with the fewest ideas. When was the last time the national outlook was actually improved by politicians rushing to “solve” people’s problems?