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August 14th, 2012
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Is this the most negative campaign in history? OutFront Political Strike Team's response may surprise you

We polled our OutFront Political Strike, our panel of thirty-one independent political journalists and analysts. We asked whether this presidential campaign season was the most negative in campaign history?


Taegan Goddard: No, it's not even the most negative in recent history. The 2004 and 1988 presidential campaigns were just as negative - if not more so.

John Avlon: No in terms of overall tone – yes in terms of negative ads.

Nia-Malika Henderson: No, no, and no.  Negative ads tend to get more coverage today than they have in the past.  But let's remember the 1828  race between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.  Jackson was accused of being a murderer and being a cannibal. And his mother was accused of being a prostitute. The back and forth between Romney and Obama is downright tame compared to that.

Alexander Burns: No, but it is the first election that is both this negative and this all-consuming. Jefferson and Adams attacked each other viciously, but they didn’t have TV ads and super PACs. Not only is this an extremely negative race, but it’s also a race that Americans couldn’t tune out if they wanted to.

Ken Vogel: No. There are plenty of examples of negative campaigning throughout American history that rival – if not surpass – this year’s nastiness.

In the 1828 presidential campaign, for instance, supporters of John Quincy Adams distributed literature assailing his opponent Andrew Jackson by calling his mother a prostitute, and his wife an adulteress. More recently, there were the racially charged Willie Horton and Revolving Door ads that hit Michael Dukakis in 1988.

This campaign could, however, set a new standard in terms of the volume of negative advertising, thanks to the explosion of unlimited outside group spending.

David Walker: I don't know if it is the most negative in history and it's just starting in any event. I do know that the campaigns have been negative and focused too much about the past, problems, personalities to-date. They need to be more positive, future focused, substantive, and results oriented.

Lisa M. Borders: Yes – with the most at stake and the gravest circumstances in our lifetime. Hyperbole rules the day. Leadership from both sides is struggling to factually articulate our problems and reasonably offer pragmatic responses.

Maegan Carberry: Yes. Every campaign is the most negative in history. It gets worse every cycle. Even Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were zinging October surprises. It's the nature of the beast, worsened now by Super PACs.

Carlos Sierra: Yes. Without question this has been the most negative campaign in history. I’m reminded of the front page of The Economist a few months back where Obama was a batter with a bat full of nails and blades, and Romney was pitching a grenade to him. They have kept true to this cover and then some. The real difference between this election and previous ones are two things: The birth of the Tea Party movement and Super PACs.

Omar H. Ali: Yes, but this needs to be qualified. As a historian I would be remiss not to make the obvious point–which is that no two presidential campaigns in history can be objectively compared, since they're happening in different contexts, at different times, and with different players. However, the current race for the presidency is happening at a particularly divisive and excessively partisan time in our nation's history. We are at the lowest point in public approval of government since national polling has been conducted and at the highest point of voter disaffection of both major parties, as expressed in the 42% of American voters who have decided to declare their political independence by either registering as unaffiliated or describing themselves as independent. The combination of lack in trust of government and rapidly increasing independent affiliation makes the current campaign seem as if it is the worst in history.

Norman Ornstein: Not yet. There were plenty of 18th and 19th century campaigns even hardher. But by November, with the breadth and reach and volume of bile, including esp. outside groups, it will win the prize.

Krist Novoselic: It seems like the name of the game is offense. Each side fires rockets with the goal of trapping the opposition into a rhetorical crater. Once down, the target needs to claw themselves out of the hole thus expending their resources.

Ronn Owens: Willie Horton? Attacking John Kerry for his military service? Pope will run the country if JFK wins? Nope.

David Gergen: Not yet but getting close.


Filed under: 2012 Election • News • Political Strike Team
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