July 25, 2016 - If you were to binge-watch every negative Donald Trump advertisement aired in 23 selected markets during the primary season, you would first want to make yourself comfortable.
How comfortable? Extremely so. You’ll be sitting down for more than 3 days and nights.
A MapLight analysis of Political TV Ad Archive data has found that the Republican presidential nominee was the subject of at least 4,963 minutes of negative advertisements between Nov. 20 and July 14, in television markets ranging from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. Cumulatively, the ads attacking Trump amounted to about 83 hours of air time.
By comparison, it would take about 11 hours to watch the airings of negative ads aimed exclusively at Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democratic nominee only had one major primary candidate, Bernie Sanders, who, for the most part, stuck to his pledge of running a positive campaign. Republican groups sponsored all of the anti-Clinton spots.
The campaign against Trump is unusual. Most of the attack ads came from a super PAC backed by his own party’s establishment.
Outsourcing Negative Ads
Although waning in influence, television advertisements still make up the single largest expense of any presidential campaign – nearly three of every four dollars spent. Most political ads are bought by campaign committees that are tied directly to an individual candidate.
Traditionally, those committees have been reluctant to sling mud for fear of angering voters. Instead they have outsourced the work of attacking opposing candidates to outside spending groups. Most negative ads are now sponsored by those groups, which include super PACs and “dark money” organizations that aren’t required to reveal their donors.
Archive records show that anti-Trump ads aired at least 7,811 times during the primary season. Our Principles, a super PAC backed by the Republican party’s establishment wing, paid for at least 1,795 airings of spots dedicated to attacking Trump individually -- the most from a single group. Nearly 30% of that air time was devoted to one ad that attacked the Republican nominee’s history of using undocumented workers on construction projects.
Two super PACs affiliated with the campaign of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz paid for at least 670 airings of anti-Trump ads. But the Texas Republican, who ran against Trump in the GOP presidential primary before dropping out of the race in May, used his own campaign funds to pay for 5 separate ads attacking Trump. One of those spots claimed Trump favored gender-neutral public bathrooms.
Conservative Solutions PAC, a super PAC affiliated with the unsuccessful campaign of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who dropped out of the race in March, paid for nearly 600 airings of anti-Trump spots. All of those ads featured Trump boasting, “I love the poorly educated.”
Business As Usual
Of the 95 separate advertisements focused on Trump, the Political Ad Archive determined that 71 were unambiguously negative, while 22 ads were considered strictly positive. That means that roughly 3 out of every 4 ads featuring only Trump were negative.
Those figures are similar to the previous presidential primary season, when roughly 70 percent of the political ads aired through April of 2012 took a negative tone, according to researchers at the Wesleyan Media Project. In 2008, only 9 percent of presidential primary ads were negative.
A 2012 post-election report found that near the end of the campaign, the prevalence of negative ads threatened to swamp any positive marketing by candidates. Almost 90 percent of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s general election advertisements were negative, according to Kantar Media CMAG; roughly 80 percent of Obama’s 2012 spots were attack ads.
Clinton’s allies have been attacking Trump since late November, according to archive records. Priorities USA Action, a Democratic-leaning super PAC that supported Obama and is now backing the former Secretary of State, has paid for 527 airings of attack ads focused only on Trump, including one spot that has run 415 times. Clinton’s own committee has already aired more than 130 anti-Trump ads, including one that consists entirely of Republicans criticizing Trump.
MapLight analysis of Political TV Ad Archive data through July 14, 2016. The markets included in the Political TV Ad Archive include stations in Iowa (Des Moines-Ames; Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City-Dubuque; and Sioux City), New Hampshire (Boston-Manchester), Nevada (Las Vegas and Reno), South Carolina (Columbia and Greenville-Spartanburg), Colorado (Colorado-Springs-Pueblo and Denver), North Carolina (Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville); Virginia (Roanoke-Lynchburg; Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; and Washington, DC-Hagerstown), Ohio (Cleveland-Akron-Canton and Cincinnati), Florida (Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota; Orlando_Daytona Beach-Melbourne; and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale), California (San Francisco), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and New York (New York City). More information about the data from the Political TV Ad Archive is available here.