Negative campaigning signifies competitive elections, they continue, and more competitive elections in turn attract more funding, which leads to more competition—and often to more negativity. But voters are not fragile little beings, endangered by excessive campaign negativity, they assert. Quite the opposite, they’re able to interpret the “rough and tumble of politics” and make independent choices about candidates. As for the assertion that negative campaigns turn voters off, routinely expressed by the press, the authors produce research that shows that voters “are not as negative about negativity” as is commonly believed. Besides, if negative campaigning really peeved voters, wouldn’t candidates strive to charm them by producing more and more positive advertisements instead of more and more negative ads?
Luckily for the republic, both parties love negative campaigns. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, in 2012 Barack Obama ran the most negative campaign in recent presidential history, with 58.5 percent of his broadcast and cable ads being judged negative. That eclipsed the previous leader, George W. Bush, who scored 55.4 percent negative. Academics and the occasional journalist may squeal in horror over the demise of campaign civility, but as Frank Rich wrote for New York magazine in 2012, negativity is in the great American political tradition.