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Are Nasty Ads Sinking Newt?

Newt Gingrich, facing plummeting poll numbers in Iowa, has turned to the only alternative cash-strapped candidates have: whining about their opponents’ negativity. Gingrich, master of the nasty political attack, is now complaining about the withering assaults on his own record, leveled mostly by Ron Paul and Mitt Romney (both of whom are beating him in the latest statewide polls). Calling the ads against him “reprehensible,” Gingrich said this week that “the only person who profits from Republican ads attacking other Republicans is Barack Obama.” What impact have these attacks had on Newt’s campaign?

A 2007 paper by three political scientists suggests that Gingrich has more than attack ads to blame for his decline. Surveying a growing body of studies about negative campaigning, the authors concluded that “the bulk of the evidence” shows only “a modest tendency for negative campaigns to undermine positive affect for the candidates they target.” In fact, most research suggests that negative campaigns are not only less effective than is widely believed; they’re actually about as effective as positive campaigns. “Intriguingly,” the authors report, this conclusion holds “even though negative campaigns appear to be somewhat more memorable and to generate somewhat greater campaign-relevant knowledge.” So while President Obama (and the rest of us) may enjoy seeing Newt take a few hits from his opponents, we should remember that blasting the GOP nominee—whoever it turns out to be­—is no guarantee of an easy win next November.