Actually, Obama Is Running a Positive Campaign

Photograph by Brendan Smialowski

On CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, President Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, took issue with Bob Schieffer’s suggestion that the reelection campaign is being driven by negative ads. Schieffer looked positively flummoxed by Axelrod’s claim that the overwhelming majority of the ads run so far have been positive. “So you’re saying you’re running a positive campaign?!” Schieffer asked, incredulously. “I think we are,” Axelrod replied.

That may be hard to believe, given the tsunami of attention that greeted the president’s negative ad about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. But Axelrod is right.

According to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, a total of 63,793 ads have been broadcast since the start of the general election campaign on April 10. Through May 24, those spots were almost perfectly split between positive and negative: 51 percent of them were positive, 49 percent negative. This week, CMAG crunched the numbers a bit further, breaking them down by partisan affiliation. And that revealed something interesting: Democrats are running a largely positive campaign, while Republicans are running a mostly negative one:

Democratic presidential advertisers aired 35,936 ads. Of these, 70 percent (25,092) were positive and 30 percent (10,844) were negative.
Republican presidential advertisers aired 27,857 ads. Of these, 27 percent (7,584) were positive and 73 percent (20,273) were negative.

So why, if Obama is running overwhelmingly positive ads, does the media coverage leave the impression that the campaign has been overwhelmingly negative? Axelrod provided a clue. He said that the positive ads have been running mostly in the battleground states—where national media bigwigs like Bob Schieffer don’t see them.

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