The characteristics of the campaigns included in this book leads to a couple of observations. First, most of the twenty-five cases cluster into one of two time periods: 1860s–1880s and 1980s–present. The years from the 1860s through the 1880s include the period historians call the Gilded Age, when American society in general was experiencing growing pains in terms of rapid business and industrial expansion, public corruption, and political gamesmanship.
Political campaigns in this era were brutal—much rougher than current standards. Name calling, character assassination, and political intrigue were commonplace and came to be an expectation on the part of most voters.
Similarly, the period from the 1980s to the present seems to be a time of increased vitriol when it comes to how politics is practiced in America. No one would suggest that these elements did not exist before the 1980s, but the politics of the last twenty-five years are becoming known for a particularly rough, mean-spirited, win-at-all-costs game of survival.
Can we label these two time periods the "Two Golden Ages of Negative Campaigning?" If so, what explains it? Are there commonalities in these two eras in American history? Each time period is unique, but both do have some characteristics that may help to explain their historically high levels of negativity in politics.
The raw politics of the 1860s–1880s were partly a product of the coarse nature and ill feelings surrounding public discourse of the time. Beginning