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Barack Obama Is a Negative Campaigner

- October 12, 2011

Beware: you are about to read a bunch of stories about how Obama’s 2008 campaign was nothing but hope and change and “making new friends” and “Yes, We Can!”,  but his 2012 campaign is going to be hard-nosed and aggressively critical of the opponent.  That is probably a correct statement about his 2012 campaign (see here or here).  But that is absolutely not a correct statement about his 2008 campaign.

I said this before to no apparent effect, so let me say it again verbatim:

Here’s a fun little quiz.  What percentage of Obama’s television advertising during the 2008 campaign included an attack on John McCain?  Well above 50%, according to research by the Wisconsin Advertising Project (pdf).  And what percentage of statements by Obama or Obama spokespeople that were reported in the New York Times contained attacks on McCain?  About 40%, according to the the book Attack Politics by Emmett Buell and my former colleague and Monkey Cage contributor Lee Sigelman.  (The comparable figure for McCain was 50%.)  Now, according to Buell and Sigelman’s data, Obama’s campaign was less negative than many other past presidential campaigns, but it was hardly just hopey-changey.

Some commentators seem to assume or imply that Obama’s 2008 message of unity and bipartisanship meant that he didn’t “go negative” in the heat of that campaign.  He did.  And he will.