Maine Senate race nastiest of all, study says

SOMESVILLE, Oct. 15, 2020 – The race between Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon ranks first as the most negative campaign with over two-thirds of the advertising on television being pure attack, according to the Wesleyan University media project.

Gideon has been more likely to go negative in her advertising, with more than half of her ads solely attacking compared to over a third of Collins’ ads.

Iowa’s contest between Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield ranks a close second at 61.5 percent negative overall despite the fact that Greenfield has not aired any pure attack ads and Ernst’s percentage of pure attacks is only 42 percent. The bulk of the negativity comes from outside groups and the party committees in that race. The Arizona, Alaska and North Carolina contests round out the top five in negativity with overall half of their ads being negative.

Table: Most Negative U.S. Senate Races (Pure Attack Only)

StateAiringsNeg %Neg %
(Dem Cand only)
Neg %
(Rep Cand only)
ME17,85163.10%49.70%35.60%
IA39,05861.50%0.00%42.10%
AZ23,89757.50%8.90%48.30%
AK*10,59353.30%20.90%49.10%
NC30,38852.30%0.00%100.00%
MT44,26748.40%0.00%4.50%
KY21,10447.40%22.70%53.70%
KS12,16045.60%36.90%71.70%
GA36,66944.40%14.80%11.40%
SC27,11939.80%25.90%64.20%
AL10,81939.20%47.90%0.00%
CO16,69333.20%10.60%0.00%
NM4,53029.70%27.50%0.00%
MI20,76627.20%6.70%14.40%
MN4,4798.60%7.40%0.00%
OK2,8095.40%0%8.70%
MS2,8290%0%0.00%
TX5,6720.00%0.00%0.00%
SOURCE: Based on ongoing Wesleyan Media Project coding of Kantar/CMAG data, which is subject to change.

This chart looks at the tone of Senate advertising in 2020 in comparison to the two previous presidential cycles. As measured through attack and contrast ads, 2020 is more negative during the comparable last few weeks in 2012 and 2016. On the other hand, pure attack spots are slightly down as a share of all ads in September and in the full cycle-to-date in 2020 compared to 2012 and 2016.

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between January 1 of the off year and September 27 of the election year in each cycle (left panel) and between September 5-27 of the election year in each year (right panel). Numbers include candidate, party, and group-sponsored ads.

This chart looks at the trend in negative messages (combining attack and contrast ads) in Senate races since the summer. As is often the case, negative spots make up a larger share of ads as the campaign progresses, such that in the last week they accounted for over 70 percent of all Senate ads. For a few weeks in late August, pro-Democratic ads were more negative than pro-GOP ads. This has reversed since the beginning of September, with about 4 of every 5 pro-Republican ads containing an attack on a Democratic Senate candidate.

BINS AT SOMESVILLE POST OFFICE FILLED WITH CAMPAIGN MATERIAL THROWN OUT BY CITIZENS. MARKETERS CALL THIS ‘FREQUENCY FATIGUE.’ THERE IS SO MUCH MONEY THAT THE CANDIDATES ARE SPENDING IT IN ALL PLACES BUT CLOGGING UP AN ALREADY STRESSED POSTAL SERVICE.

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