The contest between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Tom Foley has generated a higher percentage of purely negative advertisements than any governor’s race in the country, according to a study by the Wesleyan Media Project.
The study, which was released Tuesday, found that 79.5 percent of the ads in Connecticut’s gubernatorial race were negative. Florida’s race followed closely with 79.2 percent of the ads being negative in message. Wisconsin had the third highest percentage of negative ads with 77.1 percent.
In a phone interview, Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said the prevalence of negative ads is likely a result of the close nature of the gubernatorial race. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found Malloy and Foley deadlocked at 43 percent.
“The conventional wisdom is that when you’re way ahead you don’t have to run negative ads,” he said. “When you’re in a close race or when your negatives outweigh your positives, then you run negative ads.”
Schurin said there is evidence that negative advertisements effectively turn off independent voters, leaving both parties with their traditional voting bases. In a blue state like Connecticut, that benefits Democrats. However, Foley’s campaign likely believes it can capitalize on Malloy’s high unfavorability rating, he said.
Foley’s most recent ad, released Monday, does not mention Malloy by name, but asserts that the economy is suffering. The ad features Foley’s family as his wife, Leslie Fahrenkopf Foley, talks about Connecticut families feeling “squeezed” by rising costs. Foley then says he has a pro-growth plan to get “pride and prosperity” to come “roaring back.”
However, Foley’s previous ad, released last week, accused Malloy of habitually lying. The ad depicted Malloy with a Pinocchio-style growing nose.
Meanwhile, Malloy’s most recent ad, called “Yacht,” tries to paint Foley as an out-of-touch millionaire.
“The world must look different from a $5 million yacht,” a narrator says in the ad.
Schurin said the campaigns are likely to continue airing negative TV spots right up until Election Day.
“I think we’ll see more of it and it will come not just from campaigns themselves. It will come from the so-called independent groups,” Schurin said.
There has already been a steady stream of ads funded by Super PACs. Connecticut Forward, a group funded by the Democratic Governors Association and labor groups, released a new ad on Tuesday attacking Foley’s character and relationship with working people.
“He’s like the guy who leaves a $1 tip on a $20 check. Because in Tom Foley’s eyes, the less you give workers, the better,” a narrator says.
Meanwhile, an ad released this week by Grow Connecticut, a group bankrolled by the Republican Governors Association, stressed the $1.8 billion tax increased passed by Malloy during his first term in office in an effort to close a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
“The middle class. That’s who got hurt the most,” a woman, identified only as Sonya from Windsor, says.
Following the release of a Quinnipiac University poll last week, poll Director Douglas Schwartz said the barrage of negativity may be working in Malloy’s favor and against Foley. The poll suggested voters were evenly split on the two candidates, meaning Malloy had eliminated a six-point lead held by Foley just a month earlier. Schwartz suggested that may be attributable to Malloy’s aggressive tactics in recent televised debates.
“We haven’t seen much of a change in how people feel about Malloy. So while the race has gotten better for Malloy, it’s not because people like him more, it’s because they like Foley less,” he said.
The Wesleyan report covered ads from Sept. 29 through Oct. 9 and found a total of 2,398 ads in Connecticut’s gubernatorial race. Of those, 1,483 were pro-Democratic at a cost of $1.8 million and 915 were pro-Republican at a cost of $840,000.
Nationwide, the study found that 50.8 percent of gubernatorial ads have been negative this election cycle, while 32 percent were positive and 16.8 percent were considered “contrast” ads. That’s a higher percentage of negative ads than in 2010, when 39.2 percent of the ads were considered negative.