Political mudslinging, once called "as American as Mississippi mud," has only intensified as the presidential election draws closer, with President Obama and Mitt Romney currently hitting one another with 90 percent negative ads.
And while many Americans hate negative ads, a new project by Vanderbilt University and research firm YouGov shows them to be highly effective—at least for the Obama campaign.
The "Ad Rating Project," which measures measure voter reaction to negative ads by asking people how each ad makes them feel, how believable or memorable or fair it is, and whether they think the ads are negative or positive, found that independent voters are deeply affected by the Obama campaign's negative ads about Romney.
After showing independent voters the negative ad of Romney singing "America the Beautiful" off-key, for example, approval of Romney by those voters fell sharply from 16 points to 3 points. Obama's numbers, on the other hand, barely moved after independents watched a negative ad about the president.
"People have made up their minds about Obama," John Geer, political science professor at Vanderbilt and head of the project, told Whispers. "Whereas Obama's ads have extracted a price for Romney. They are what's moving the dial for the Obama camp. And the Obama campaign knows that."
When surveyed, half of independents also said they were "disgusted" by the "America the Beautiful" ad, and the majority didn't like it. But a voter's approval of an ad is not necessarily a measure of its success, the Ad Rating Project's results show.
"Negative ads disgust people, but they may also remember them more," says Geer, noting that 43 percent of independents found the "America the Beautiful" ad memorable. "The presumption is that these ads undermine the political process...but we need to know the bad sides of candidates. We need to let the public in instead of just letting the talking heads talk about them."