In the race between incumbent Pat Quinn and challenger Bruce Rauner close to $56-million dollars have been spent on campaign ads since the beginning of the year.
That’s more than 50,000 television commercials through Oct. 20, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Some of the ads have been positive but most have been either totally or partially negative, according to the Center’s ad wars tracker.
The Rauner campaign has flooded the commercial airways this year spending $10 million for what are called mixed ads. In all nearly 15,000 mixed ad spots have run on broadcast television that praise Rauner and blast Quinn.
When it comes solely to negative ads---without any positive message--the Center for Public Integrity says Pat Quinn holds a large lead.
Through Oct. 20 there have been 13,600 Quinn negative ads as opposed to 8,452 by the Rauner campaign.
But do negative ads work?
“People remember the negative ad,” said DePaul University political science professor Michael Mezey, who says the Quinn strategy mirrors what Barack Obama did to Mitt Romney.
“If you can get there early with those ads you are able to define your opponent. That helps you later on,” Mezey said.
But there is no clear cut evidence Mezey says that negative ads move undecided voters. The ads in fact, he says, drive down those independents not strongly committed to either candidate.
“They (undecided voters) arrive at a curse on both their houses type position and they stay home,” he said, noting the aim is to “drive down” any votes they are not certain of.
It has been 50 years since the most famous negative ad of all time ran on TV. The 1964 commercial of a young girl picking the petals off a daisy was an attempt by Democrat Lyndon Johnson to define his 1964 Republican opponent Barry Goldwater.
The commercial aired only once.
“The importance of the ad has been exaggerated,” Mezey said. “It’s not clear it moved many voters."
But it was memorable. And that’s the point.
While academics don’t think negative ads make a difference campaign managers do. If it’s positive, one campaign manager once said, save it for your tombstone.