Ad update: Setting a negative tone

Posted August 26, 2014

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis

— Aug. 19 was the busiest day so far of the U.S. Senate campaign air war between first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis, according to data provided to WRAL News by the Kantar Media

On that day, broadcast television airwaves in North Carolina carried 527 different instances of commercials that mentioned one of the candidates. That doesn't count ads carried by cable or satellite television channels. Chances are, if you saw one of those ads, it wasn't particularly kind to one of the candidates. Senate debate Political TV ad spending in North Carolina

Kantar codes most of the ads it tracks as either positive or negative. Less than 10 percent aren't assigned a category. 

Since Jan. 1, three out of every four ads aired about the race have been tagged as negative. 

"It's human nature to pay attention to negative information," said Steven Greene, a North Carolina State University professor of political science.

While there is some debate in political science literature about how useful political ads are, Greene said it's unlikely campaigns would continue to spend money on them if they didn't work. 

So far, campaigns and third-party groups have spent an estimated $17 million on television ads from Jan. 1 through Aug. 24. Third-party groups include super PACs, 501(c)(4) nonprofits and others that aren't allowed to explicitly coordinate with campaigns but can help them by airing ads designed to influence voters. 

There has been shift in the tone of the campaign ads lately, with only two-thirds of those aired so far in August tagged as explicitly negative. That shift appears to coincide with both Hagan and Tillis airing their own commercials. While the bulk of the ads put on the air since Jan. 1 have been aired by third-party groups, candidates are now spending out of their own campaign war chests. None of the spots aired by either candidate could be coded as explicitly negative, according to Kantar. 

Fact Check Logo Fact Check: Political claims "They now have super PACs and the other third-party groups to run all the negative ads," Greene said.

While candidates used to have to do the bulk of their own advertising, positive and negative, it makes sense of them to focus on the positive if other groups are committed to attack ads.

Chances are, Greene said, the campaign will swing more negative as the fall wears on and candidates add attacks to their mix of commercials. 


This chart counts each time a commercial related to the North Carolina U.S. Senate campaign airs on a broadcast television station. The data is provided to WRAL News by Kantar Media Services. Commercials included are those paid for by candidates and political parties, as well as those aired by third-party independent spending groups such as super PACs and 501(c)(4) organizations.



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  • Ijaz Fahted Aug 27, 2014
    user avatar

    So we have an article and study to tell us what we already know. There will be mud, it will be slung, both sides will be negative. What more is there other than some statistics to back up those already known facts.

  • Michael Hart Aug 27, 2014
    user avatar

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    If that were true, then what do you say with regards to Tillis and the folks pulling his strings? Koch Bros have no interest in NC other than Fracking and anything not in THEIR best interest, they could care less about the People of NC

  • juliomercado Aug 27, 2014

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    Its a shame that every election comes down to lesser of two evils. Thankfully in the US Senate race, its no contest. Tillis is a boy scout helping old ladies cross the street compared to the DC concubine Hagen. She has done NOTHING for NC and proudly supported Obamacare. She has done more harm as a US Senator to the middle class in NC than any governor or state speaker in history.

  • heelhawk Aug 27, 2014

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    Albegadeep - I sincerely mean it when I say that I hope you are able to find that candidate. That being said, I've followed politics for most of my life and that person is going to be a rare find. If you do identify him or her, please let me know. Unfortunately in today's political climate it is less about a candidate's ideas and more about bashing their opponent. Both sides do it, it is ugly, but apparently it is effective since there seem to be no end to attack ads. As an independent, I can't say that I'd vote for someone just because they didn't put out an attack ad as I might disagree with their ideas; but it would go a long way toward getting me to listen to their ideas. Best wishes in your endeavor.

  • Aug 27, 2014

    When you don't have anything you can say positive about a candidate, you call them "Tillis".

  • miseem Aug 27, 2014

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    Obamacare is at least a step in the right direction, and we are seeing less and less political opposition to it because most people have not seen any changes to their health insurance and people with individual policies are seeing their costs go down due to removing penalties on pre-existing conditions. There will always be people complaining about it, we still have people griping about Medicare almost 50 years down the road. And the question is, which issues would Tillis vote against the GOP on? You buy into Tillis, you buy into ALEC. And if you don't care which issues she has voted on, I'm guessing you don't know what she has voted for or against. Not exactly a position to be in for criticizing her votes. But as usual, anything Obama supports must be bad. Don't need details, facts or information. All some people need to hear is "Obama supports" to arrive at an opinion.

  • caronia49 Aug 27, 2014

    There is nothing to say about Hagan that could be anything but negative. She has had her chance to be effective, but Hagan is a yes puppet for Obama and Reid, and could care less what the people of NC want in a Senator.

  • Tom Boswell Aug 27, 2014
    user avatar

    Your comment is completely irrelevant because Tillis did not say to gain our vote ""It is time for someone to reach across party lines, Voting 92% of vote while time with the
    president . . . doesn't work here in North Carolina." I do not care what issues she has voted on except she is a rubber stamp for Obama, Pelosi and Reid. She has voted 97% of the time with Obama. She deceived us and you have no problem with that! WOW !! So you will be one of those fooled twice. No comment on Obamacare???

  • miseem Aug 27, 2014

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    Hagan campaigned four years ago FJSMSS2099. Funny, I thought that senators held office for 6 years. And other tests of voting patterns show that Hagan voted along party lines only 86% of the time on more partisan issues and 90% overall. Crossing the aisle more than our Republican senator did. And remember, some of those yes votes as an Obama flunky were also yes votes by Burr. Question is, how many votes did Tillis cast against the ALEC inspired legislation passed in NC in the last few years? And would you expect Tillis to vote against the GOP line on any issues facing this country over the next 6 years.

  • Andy Hairston Aug 27, 2014
    user avatar

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    I didn't say that - but I probably won't vote for anyone who's more interested in bashing the competition than telling us why we should vote for them.