Report

News Interest Index: Campaign Seen As Increasingly Negative

  • October 16, 2008

With less than three weeks to go before the election, there is a growing sense among the public that the tone of the presidential campaign has changed. According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, a majority of Americans (55%) now say that the campaign is too negative. This is up significantly from 43% a month ago and represents a dramatic change from the beginning of the primary season when only 28% said the campaign was too negative. Perceptions of the tone of the current campaign are nearly identical to views of the 2004 presidential campaign. In October 2004, 57% of registered voters said the campaign was too negative.

In spite of criticism about the tone of the campaign, the public remains highly engaged in the process. Fully 71% say the campaign is interesting, and a strong majority (63%) says the campaign has been informative thus far. Furthermore, the percent saying the campaign is too long has actually fallen since April, when the election was still more than six months away.

Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to say the campaign has been too negative. In September, there were only slight differences among the three groups – Democrats, independents and Republicans all narrowly said the campaign was not too negative. Today, 62% of Democrats and 57% of independents say the campaign is too negative, while only 47% of Republicans agree.

Changing sentiments about the tone of the campaign coincide with a dramatic increase in the percentage of Americans who have seen the presidential candidates' television commercials in recent weeks. Fully 80% say they have seen a television commercial on behalf of Barack Obama's candidacy recently and nearly as many (76%) report having seen a commercial on behalf of John McCain. In mid-September, only 54% of the public had seen an ad for Obama and 58% had seen a McCain ad.

On balance, those who have seen Obama's ads believe they are truthful. Nearly half (47%) say Obama's ads are truthful, while 24% say they are not truthful. The public is more evenly split over the truthfulness of McCain's campaign ads: 35% say they are truthful, while 33% say they are not.

Democrats overwhelmingly believe that Obama's television ads are truthful, while they doubt the veracity of McCain's. Similarly, Republicans believe McCain's ads are truthful, while a plurality says Obama's are not. Independents have a much more favorable view of Obama's ads than they do of McCain's. By a margin of 42%-26% independents say Obama's ads are truthful. When it comes to McCain's ads, independents are evenly divided: 32% say they are truthful and 33% say they are not.

Read the full report Campaign Seen As Increasingly Negative on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.