There is a key difference between Republican and Democratic attacks ads this year.
As I previously noted, Republican attacks focus mainly on policy, such as Obamacare, stimulus, and national deficits and debt. That’s not to say that there are not individual ads which may get personal, but the Republican believe they can win on the issues.
Democrats, by contrast, have a deliberate strategy of basing their campaigns on opposition research to personalize attacks, frequently based on gross exaggerations of incidents from a candidate’s past.
Ithaca shares the Syracuse television market, so I’ve witnessed this phenomenon in two hotly contested races where Democratic incumbents are at risk.
The DCCC is running around-the-clock ads misleadingly saying that Republican Richard Hanna (running in NY-24) received $4 million in government handouts (in fact, his construction company was the successful bidder on municipal construction contracts) and caused tens of thousands of dollars in cost overruns (in fact, there were normal work-order changes which increased the cost of the project.) The DCCC also is running ads against Republican Matt Doheny (running in NY-23) focused entirely on two six-year-old old charges for boating under the influence (for which he received administrative fines only). No policy here, folks.
This anecdotal evidence is supported by a study which documents that while both sides are running “negative” ads at approximately the same rate, Republicans focus on policy and Democrats on personal attacks. As reported by ABC News:
As you watch this year’s ads — and I’ve been watching all too many lately — you’ll notice a striking difference between Democratic and Republican attack ads: Democrats are attacking over personal issues, Republicans are attacking over policy.
There are, of course, many exceptions, but the overall trend is clear. Democrats are hitting their Republican opponents over past legal transgressions, shady business deals and even speeding tickets. Republicans are hammering Democrats over “Obamacare,” Nancy Pelosi and the economy.
ABC News highlights one such Democratic attack:
In one typical example, Democratic ads have transformed Kentucky Republican House candidate Andy Barr into “a convicted criminal” — complete with images yellow police tape and fuzzy video of crime scenes. Not mentioned is his crime: As a college student 19 years ago, he was caught using a fake ID during spring break.
ABC’s report is based on a study conducted at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which found, among other things:
In 2010, pro-Democratic ad sponsors focused on the personal characteristics of Republican candidates in 21% of their attack ads. This is up from the 12% of Democratic attack ads in 2008 that were focused on personal characteristics. Republicans have mentioned candidate characteristics in 11 percent of their attack ads this year.[*]
Those percentages seem low to me for Democratic personal attacks, perhaps because the study does not break out the percentages by district. In the central New York television market, where there are multiple at-risk Democratic incumbents, the Democratic personal attacks ads are predominant. It may be that there are other markets where the attack ads are less personal, but I’m not seeing it here.
Nonetheless, the study documents a 2-1 ratio of Democratic personal attacks over similar Republican attacks nationwide.
Democrats are desperate. They are drowning in their own policy failures, and they are lashing out. Which makes them very dangerous.
Just let them drown.
[* These percentages are for pure personal attacks without any policy issue being raised; if you add to these figures ads which combine personal and policy attacks, the total figures are 51.32% (Dem.) versus 30.79% (Rep.).]
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