When it comes to political ads, there’s no shortage of high-minded talk on the campaign trail. President Obama regularly decries the onslaught of negativity; Mitt Romney talks about the importance of elevating the debate.
But ask voters in the handful of swing states about the candidates’ ads on the air, and many say – for right or for wrong — their rhetoric just doesn’t ring true.
“They both have a danger of being too negative, and being over saturated. Living in Florida, that’s all you see are the television ads,” said Julie Petosa of Orlando, one of dozens of voters interviewed by ABC News over the past two months about the tone of campaign ads. “I don’t know how we’re going to live through three more months of it.”
Petosa isn’t imagining things, and she’s not alone.
Political campaign ads are flooding the airwaves, propelled by record sums of cash and making the bitter partisanship of this year’s presidential race impossible to escape.
Of the $332 million spent on TV advertising since the start of the campaign, roughly three quarters funded negative messages, an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data by the Washington Post found.
“It’s the nature of politics. I mean, what are you going to do?” said a resigned Max Hansen of Jacksonville, Fla. “Everybody’s like, ‘oh I hate negative ads.’ But they work. They wouldn’t do them if they didn’t work.”
Outside groups – particularly super PACs — have been among the most negative spenders. But the Obama and Romney campaigns have each been more negative than positive: 61 percent of all Obama ad spending has been negative compared with 71 percent of Romney ad spending, according to the Post tracker.
For many voters, however, not all negative attacks are equal, especially when viewed through a lens of their personal politics.
“I won’t say Mitt’s been too negative. I will say our president hasn’t said what he’s going to do in a second term; just attacked Mitt, which is asking Mitt to release his tax returns,” said Romney supporter Dan Berlinger of Winter Park, Fla. He added, “I think we need to stop the personal attacks. Politics shouldn’t be personal.”
“When you look at what Mitt Romney did in the primaries, it was literally just smear his opponents. It wasn’t just, ‘hey, let’s put Mitt Romney forward,’” noted Hansen.
Linda Eason, a school teacher in Miami, said both candidates are too negative — even her favorite, President Obama. “I would like to see him tone down the rhetoric,” she said. “Speak to the issues.”
Shay Johnson, a self-described independent who works in the health care industry in Denver, said the strategy by both campaigns is “kind of sad.”
“You’d expect that as professionals they’d talk about what needs to happen in the U.S. and not bash each other,” she said.
Resigned to weather the storm of ads, many voters have devised strategies to help cope.
“I think knowing for yourself, educating yourself is the best thing,” said Allison Goodwin of Ft. Collins, Colo. “Some stuff is fabricated and they twist and they turn things and you don’t really know which way to go.”
And when the “scary voices” become too unbearable, said Deborah Brown of Des Moines, Iowa. “Switch the channel. Because sometimes listening to negativity is chilling your mind, so I want to make sure my energy is positive,” she said.