Plenty of evidence, sure, somewhere, but not in this piece. Not a stat, not a study, not a “Dr. X from Y research group says ads are effective because…” And certainly no input from man-on-the-street voter Z on how effective it is on their ballot choice. The efficacy of negative campaigning might be a too-obvious point to report out, true—we probably don’t need another generic quote from a Larry Sabato-type to support the claim—but the less-often asserted idea that negative campaigns are particularly effective against newer candidates is not so obvious as to be left to hang in the same fashion. Is there some research or an expert to quote as to why? I assume it’s because newer candidates are blanker canvasses, more easily able to be defined by an opposition campaign. But I’m really just guessing, much as other readers are expected to at this point in the piece.

There are some interesting insights into the nature of negative ads in Zeleny’s report—he’s a solid reporter, as knowledgeable as anyone on his beat—and it works as a survey of what’s being said in several congressional races across the country, and to some extent why it’s being said. But it all feels a little too much like a campaign ad in the end—a bunch of promises, not much delivery.


Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.