Anger Management

Presidential Race Turned Sharply Negative After Iowa, Analysis Shows

More than half of the presidential election ads over the past week carried a negative message.

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Photographer: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The race for the Republican presidential nomination has taken a markedly negative turn as candidates flood New Hampshire airways with attacks on their opponents less than a week before the nation's first primary.

More than half the ads running in New Hampshire over the past seven days, ending Wednesday, carried negative messages about Republican candidates, according to an analysis of Kantar Media's CMAG data by Bloomberg Politics analyst Ken Goldstein. By comparison, of the political ads broadcast in the week before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, less than 30 percent of ads were negative.

"Now, the stakes are higher," said Goldstein, who is also a politics professor at University of San Francisco. "No one really thought they could break into the top three in Iowa," but in New Hampshire, "there's a whole bunch of people who are competing for one of the two or three tickets out of New Hampshire."

Campaigns and super-PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of cash, have already poured about $100 million into television ads for the New Hampshire race. For some candidates, a weak showing could spell the end of their campaigns. Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses, has come under the heaviest attack in New Hampshire, according to the analysis. A full 16 percent of all broadcast spots were attack ads against him.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie—widely considered to be vying for the Republican establishment vote—have the challenge of trying to stop Marco Rubio's momentum after he placed an unexpectedly strong third place in Iowa. The New York Times reported Thursday that members of the Christie and Bush campaigns have communicated about a mutual desire to halt Rubio's rise. The campaigns aren't formally coordinating efforts, however, according to the Times.

Bush hasn't reserved his attacks for Rubio. He's also had his eye on Donald Trump, who leads the field in polls. According to a CNN-WMUR tracking poll released Thursday, Trump is in front with 29 percent, trailed by Rubio with 18 percent and Cruz with 13 percent. Bush released a two-minute ad focusing in part on some of Trump's most controversial comments in recent months. Otherwise, Trump has been the focus of few negative spots, according to the analysis.  

Bush and Rubio had roughly the same number of spots aired for and against them, while for Kasich there were more than three times as many spots against him than for him. Kasich complained about the onslaught during a stop Thursday and vowed to run a positive campaign. And an outside group backing Kasich started a new spot on Thursday as part of a $1 million ad buy showing five figures covered in mud, one hurling it at another. "As John Kasich has risen," the narrator says, "Rubio and Bush have gone negative. Doing 'whatever it takes to win' is not presidential."

Christie, who has struggled in the polls, has so far campaigned without much opposition. About 15 percent of ads were positive ads for Christie, while no negative ads ran against him.

“As this campaign gets more competitive, it will get more negative,” Goldstein said.

—Mark Niquette contributed to this article. 

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