The GOP is spending millions on attack ads and the candidates are following suit.
"When the news is bad, the ads tend to be negative," said Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford professor who studies political advertising. "And the more negative the ad, the more likely it is to get free media coverage. So there's a big incentive to go to the extremes."
The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit....
Experts say that in the past, negative ads were usually more accurate, better documented and more informative than positive ads; there was a higher burden of proof. Stanford's Iyengar thinks that is still true for candidate-funded messages, which now require candidates to say they approved them. But it is not true when the messages are produced by political parties, shadowy independent groups or partisans posting on YouTube.
"You're going to see more of this sensational, off-the-wall stuff," Iyengar said. "If you get people disgusted, they might withdraw from politics, and that's the real goal these days."