According to campaign ads blaring in living rooms across Connecticut, incumbent Governor Dannel Malloy is “angry” for no apparent reason, while his opponent, Republican Tom Foley, is a “radical” right-winger.
The two 30-second spots — “Angry Dan” and “Radical” — highlight a national trend: Campaign ads this midterm season are more negative than in 2012 and 2010. Nationwide, according to a report published last week by the Wesleyan Media Project, 44 percent of ads in gubernatorial races are negative, compared to 34 percent in 2010. Of the four ads on Malloy’s campaign YouTube channel, two attack Foley. Of Foley’s 10 ads published on YouTube, four deride Malloy.
The reason for this trend is simple, said Ron Schurin, the associate professor of American Government and Politics at the University of Connecticut.
“Everyone criticizes negative advertising, but it works,” Schurin said. “They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.”
At the same time, an influx of outside spending has led to still more ads blanketing the airwaves. Connecticut’s campaign finance laws require political action committees (PACs) that support candidates for state office to have a state voter as treasurer. Thus, several national groups have established Connecticut-based offshoots.
The Republican Governors Association has already donated over $2 million to a PAC called Grow Connecticut, which has purchased television, radio, direct mail and web ads, supporting Foley’s candidacy. The Democratic Governors Association has donated $1.25 million to Connecticut Forward. The pro-Malloy group has also received millions from the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Schurin said all of the ads he has seen sponsored by outside groups are negative.
Spokespeople for both campaigns defended their ads. Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the Malloy campaign, said the ads present voters with two competing visions for the future of Connecticut.
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Foley, said the team never runs ads that exclusively attack Malloy. Instead, several of his ads, including “Angry Dan,” begin with a narrator criticizing Malloy while ominous black and white photos of the governor flash, but at about the 15-second mark, the gloom lifts and Foley appears, intently listening to professionals in various fields.
“They’re called contrast pieces and what they’re designed to do is show the governor’s record and show a positive record for how to move forward,” Cooper said.
Tomas Albergo ’16, who is taking the semester off and living at home in Guilford to recover from a medical procedure, said he has seen many negative ads on local cable networks. Albergo believes the ads make it more difficult for voters to make an informed decision in November.
“Though there have been character or evidence ads supporting either candidate, they seem to be drowned by the constant negativity,” Albergo said. “Instead of doing extra research to learn more, one has to do it for a base understanding.”
The Wesleyan Media Project report showed that in Connecticut, over 1,300 pro-Malloy ads have aired, compared to just under 600 pro-Foley ads. Nationwide, in gubernatorial races there were about 5,000 more pro-Republican than pro-Democrat ads.
Despite the advertising advantage he currently enjoys — in part because of outside spending — Bergman said that Malloy favors campaign finance restrictions.
“We don’t have control over what outside groups do in the state,” Bergman said.
Though the race is already tense, it could take on an even more rancorous tone in the final push to Election Day, Schurin said. He thinks groups could be waiting to dump money into the state to sway voters just before they head to the polls.
Recent filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission show that more PACs may be joining the Connecticut fray. While Connecticut Forward and Grow Connecticut have been active for months, pro-Malloy Common Sense Connecticut filed its first independent expenditure report on Sept. 19. The group is funded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s national PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, which funds politicians who support gun control measures such as universal background checks.
Treasurer of Common Sense Connecticut Susan Voigt said she was contacted a few weeks ago about becoming the PAC’s treasurer. Though she runs the local PAC, her role is primarily to approve expenditures dictated by national donors, she said.
Voigt said she is still waiting to see whether massive outside spending negatively impacts the Democratic process.
“It really depends on what happens with the money,” Voigt said. “I do think though that this political system is going to be as good as we can make it.”
Nationally, about 30 percent of all campaign ads were sponsored by interest group, according to a report by the Wesleyan Media Project.