In US, YouTube political ads get nasty

U. MELBOURNE (AUS) — American politicians—and their unofficial ad creators—are a mean bunch when it comes to campaigning online, particularly when combining personal and issue attacks in ads posted on YouTube.

A new study analyzed 144 online campaign ads produced for more than 11 candidates during the 2012 French and American presidential elections, including the Republican primaries in the US. Slightly more than 60 percent of American ads possessed a negative tone, compared to just 7 percent of French ads.

The vast majority of French advertisements (68 percent) were deemed to be neutral in tone, compared to 18 percent of the US ads.

In addition, unofficial advertisements that were created by amateur media producers for US politicians were the most negative on average, with 13.4 negative statements and images per ad. Unofficial, non-professionally created ads for French politicians were typically most positive with only 4.5 negative statements and images on average.


“This study indicates that non–professional media creators in America are pushing the boundaries of attack advertising beyond the already harsh and highly visible climate of animosity present in the advertising put forth by candidates themselves,” says Jacob Groshek, political communications researcher in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

“These findings are squarely at odds with some previously held ideas about the democratizing potential for online communication to reinvigorate American politics.

“But on the other hand, the findings do align with a growing body of research that suggests prevailing political and media cultures are adaptive and re-negotiated in online social media spaces.”

The findings, published online in the journal First Monday, apply across the left-right ideological divide in both the US and in France. The study assigned an average negativity score to each analyzed politician, based on the average number of negative statements and images in their ads.

The most negative ads came from Ron Paul (15.9), Rick Santorum (11.4), and Mitt Romney (8.8), all from the US; and Marine LePen (8.6) of France.

The most positive ads came from Christine Boutin of France (7.8), Newt Gingrich of the US (7.8), Nicolas Sarkozy of France (8.0), Barack Obama of the US (8.2), and Francois Hollande of France (8.5).

Source: University of Melbourne