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The truth about the ads

world Updated: Oct 17, 2008 15:32 IST
V Krishna

"It's a matter of fact," John McCain said during Wednesday's final presidential debate, "that Senator Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history. And I can prove it."

Barack Obama wouldn't let that go unchallenged. The CBS network, he said, "just did a poll, showing that two-thirds of the American people think that Senator McCain is running a negative campaign versus one-third of mine. And 100 per cent, John, of your ads -- 100 per cent of them have been negative."

So, who has been more negative? Here's what the experts at the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, which tracks presidential campaign advertising, have to say.

McCain's advertising has not been completely negative over the course of the campaign, says Prof. Ken Goldstein, director of the project. His team found that 47 per cent of the McCain spots that aired between June 4 and October 4 were negative -- that is, they were completely focused on Obama. Twenty-six per cent were positive (focusing on McCain's personal story or on his issues or proposals) and 27 per cent were contrast ads (a mix of positive and negative messages).

However, Goldstein says, all McCain advertising for the week of September 28-October 4 did have significant negative content. The spots either consisted of attacks on Obama or combined such attacks with some talk about McCain's own plans.

But what about Obama? The team's analysis shows that 39 per cent of all general election Obama ads have been positive, 35 per cent have been negative and 25 percent have been contrast ads with a bit of both. So, on a proportional basis, the McCain campaign has been more negative than Obama's, Goldstein says.

But Obama has aired over 50,000 more ads than McCain. So, hasn't he simply aired more of everything –- including negative ads -– than McCain or anyone else in history?

According to Goldstein, if one counts only purely negative ads, McCain has aired more than Obama. If one counts contrast ads as half positive and half negative or considers them as negative – as the project does – the tone of the McCain and Obama campaigns has been almost identical, Goldstein says.

In 1996 Bob Dole aired the greatest proportion of negative ads in recent presidential elections, Goldstein says. Seventy per cent of his ads in his contest against then-President Bill Clinton were negative and 12 per cent were contrast. But the largest number of negative ads was aired in 2004 by President Bush's campaign.