Negative Political Advertising:
History, Research, and Analysis
NEGATIVE POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING
Although voters and journalists alike have lamented the rise of negative campaigning in the 1980s, it is not a new American political phenomenon. In 1952, Estes Kefauver used the first direct attack television ad against Eisenhower (Diamond & Bates, 1988; Wilson, 1987). And, every presidential election year since 1952 has had its share of negative television ads. What is new is the pervasiveness of this technique. Although negative political advertising has been defined in various ways, both academicians and consultants seem to agree that negative ads make up a significant portion of modern political advertising. Researchers estimate that between 30% and 50% of all political advertising produced can be described as negative (Kaid & Davidson, 1986; Sabato, 1981; Taylor, 1986). Some political observers contend that negative political advertising is the hallmark of American media politics in the late 20th century (Taylor, 1986). According to Advertising Age, over $450 million were spent in the 1986 House and Senate races (Colford, 1986). And over 50% of that amount was spent in negative political advertising (Taylor, 1986).
Negative political ads are now staples in federal, state, and local campaigns. But, before we examine modern negative political advertising, we must first understand the American tradition of negative campaigning.