Barack Obama Is a Negative Campaigner

Beware: you are about to read a bunch of stories about how Obama’s 2008 campaign was nothing but hope and change and “making new friends” and “Yes, We Can!”,  but his 2012 campaign is going to be hard-nosed and aggressively critical of the opponent.  That is probably a correct statement about his 2012 campaign (see here or here).  But that is absolutely not a correct statement about his 2008 campaign.

I said this before to no apparent effect, so let me say it again verbatim:

Here’s a fun little quiz.  What percentage of Obama’s television advertising during the 2008 campaign included an attack on John McCain?  Well above 50%, according to research by the Wisconsin Advertising Project (pdf).  And what percentage of statements by Obama or Obama spokespeople that were reported in the New York Times contained attacks on McCain?  About 40%, according to the the book Attack Politics by Emmett Buell and my former colleague and Monkey Cage contributor Lee Sigelman.  (The comparable figure for McCain was 50%.)  Now, according to Buell and Sigelman’s data, Obama’s campaign was less negative than many other past presidential campaigns, but it was hardly just hopey-changey.

Some commentators seem to assume or imply that Obama’s 2008 message of unity and bipartisanship meant that he didn’t “go negative” in the heat of that campaign.  He did.  And he will.


8 Responses to Barack Obama Is a Negative Campaigner

  1. Vincent October 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Of course, they’re all going to run negative adds. The question is whether Obama had a more or less negative campaign than McCain and/or past candidates. You suggest that he was less negative than other candidates. If that difference is significant, then your title is correct but misleading. In any case, some context would have been nice. What’s the prevalence of negative campaigning by other candidates?

    • John Sides October 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

      Vincent: As you note, I do address the question of whether Obama was less negative than McCain and past candidates. He was less so. But the implication of some current commentary is that his campaign was entirely or mostly positive, when in fact it was not.

      • Jake Dort October 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

        Why is it, do you think, that the LIBERAL media report Obama’s 2008 campaign as “entirely or mostly positive”?

  2. Vincent October 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Or I could just click on the link and do the research myself… Sorry for the tone in my previous post.

  3. Sanjay Srivastava October 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    “He did. And he will.”

    Timely post. As of today, he has.

  4. Kate Madison October 13, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    PLEASE, President Obama, go negative. Go VERY negative. Talk about who a Republican would likely put on the Supreme Court. Talk about who you would consider for the Supreme Court. Say it over and over and over again! The American voters need to hear this and take it in. This is the only reason many of us are going to vote for you. GET IT!

  5. kelly knauer October 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    well said, kate m

  6. ed lazarus March 30, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    The possible impending doom regarding The Affordable Health Act as it’s constitutionality is under attack and its’ fate is in the hands of a Supreme Court that has become as close to the GOP as FOX has.
    Proof to any who had doubts that there are few decisions of greater importance than the nominations to the Court.
    We are about to learn just what kind of man Justice Kennedy really is. And Obama;s fate is in his hands,