Ads In Brown, Shaheen Senate Race More Than 90 Percent Negative

Oct 16, 2014

Negative ads aired against Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, paid for by the US Chamber of Commerce and the League of Conservation Voters

As Election Day draws near we’re checking in each week on political ads and ad spending with Dave Levinthal, Senior Political Reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.

Over the past week Levinthal says political ads have turned negative – really negative.

The idea that the ads have now turned negative is interesting – I imagine a lot of people assumed they were already negative up to this point. Did they actually get more negative than before?

Believe it or not, they have gotten more negative, not only in New Hampshire but across the country. The week before last they were pretty darn negative – about seven out of 10 ads that were up in various US Senate races had at least some sort of negative content.

Some were overtly negative; others were kind of contrast-y and perhaps said something nice about the candidates sponsoring them or about the candidate that was being supported, then something about the candidate that was being supported, and something nasty about the opposing candidate. But very few were positive.

Well, it got even worse this week. If you’re talking about the negativity of Senate races in general, it’s about as bad as it’s gotten all year. And in a state like New Hampshire, things are just getting as ugly, almost as they can possibly get.

New Hampshire is fast becoming the snake pit of Senate races: only about eight percent of the television ads that were up on television this week had a positive tone to them. Everything else that was up on WMUR and the Boston stations, it was all very, very negative.

This was coming from outside political organizations, groups that are either supporting or opposing Jeanne Shaheen or Scott Brown, but mainly from the candidates themselves.

New Hampshire is fast becoming the snake pit of Senate races: only about eight percent of the television ads that were up on television this week had a positive tone to them.

And that’s interesting, because you could imagine a scenario where the outside groups play the role of the “bad cop,” doing all the negative attacks, while the candidates position themselves as above the fray and say, I’m just going to talk about my ideas and stay positive. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Both of them were getting ugly, both the candidates and the outside groups. There were a couple of exceptions, the most notable one being a group called the Council of American Job Growth; it’s supporting Scott Brown.

It had several dozen ads that went up on TV that were positive, putting Scott Brown in a positive light and focusing on why they think he’s a good candidate as opposed to focusing on why Jeanne Shaheen is a bad candidate. But that really is the exception to the rule. Overall there were about 1,600 ads that were up on TV in the past week in the New Hampshire Senate race, and effectively nine out of 10 had some sort of negative message to them.

Politico reports today that Democratic US Senator Jeanne Shaheen has stopped running an ad attacking Republican challenger Scott Brown on women’s issues and is now playing a positive one. Can we read into that decision, especially given that the GOP had called on Shaheen to pull that ad entirely?

It is possible that you can get too negative, and particularly in a close race – and this still remains a fairly close race – you have the possibility if you get too negative, or if your ads cross a perceived line of appropriateness, of turning people off, of angering not only people who may be undecided in who to vote for, but even turning off some of the people who are your own supporters, who may be scratching their heads wondering, why is the candidate who I like getting so mean, so nasty, so negative?

That is the risk you run when you play in the mud as much as candidates have been playing in the mud in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Screenshots of recent ads aired by the Brown and Shaheen campaigns in N.H.

But that doesn’t mean we should expect all ads will get positive as we get close to Election Day.

Absolutely not. Negativity is used because negativity often works. Do not expect, as a New Hampshire voter, that things are going to get sunny and cheery and happy anytime soon.

We are running out of time here; there are only a couple weeks left before Election Day. Many of the ads are already booked. Of course, candidates and outside groups have the ability and the potential to pull them down or change their buys, but what is locked and loaded right now is pretty much locked and loaded.