RECORD BREAKER: 2016 Election has Most Money Spent on Negative Ads–More Than Half Attacking Donald

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.23.39 AMWhen both sides of the aisle are spending an insane amount of money to attack you, that must be a new personal accomplishment. Donald should be flattered.

More than half of the record spending on negative advertising during the 2016 presidential primary has been directed at a single candidate, Donald J. Trump, a barrage that threatens to undermine his candidacy even as he continues to march toward the Republican nomination.

Of the more than $132 million spent on negative ads by candidates and the groups supporting them, nearly $70 million has gone to commercials assailing Mr. Trump, according to a New York Times analysis of data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG. The sharp focus on a single candidate is especially surprising given the exceptional size of the initial Republican field.

In addition to Mr. Trump’s opponents, three Republican “super PACs” have made it their main focus to take him down. The Club for Growth, Our Principles PAC and the American Future Fund, all unaligned with any particular candidate, have spent more than $23.5 million on negative ads against him.

On Monday, Hillary Clinton crossed primary lines to add to the onslaught, releasing a commercial that highlights comments Mr. Trump has made about immigration and abortion and argues that he is trying to get Americans to turn against one another.

“What is unusual and unprecedented is the array of advertisers who are out there flogging Trump on the air,” said Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media/CMAG. “You have general election foes attacking him, you have his primary foes attacking him, and you have specific groups whose whole focus in life is just to make sure that he’s not the nominee.”

The amount of spending on negative and contrast ads, which are partly critical, against Mr. Trump is yet another example of the unique way in which he has dominated the Republican primary campaign so far. Largely because of his high name recognition and established brand, he has mostly withstood the attacks, building on his delegate lead and polling well in states that vote soon. In New York, which holds its primary next week, he has the support of more than 50 percent of likely Republican voters.

But despite claims that campaign advertising has lost its potency, there is growing evidence that negative ads still work — and that they are beginning to take their toll on Mr. Trump.

Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who tracks campaign advertising, pointed to Wisconsin as a place where the ads, paired with a focused message, a smaller field and a persuadable electorate, had an effect.

“Negative ads are never a silver bullet,” Mr. Goldstein said. “What negative ads in particular do is allow people to introduce or amplify messages that are out there with movable people.”

In Florida, by contrast, a large state with several media markets, Mr. Trump faced a significant amount of negative advertising from various groups, but the scattershot message failed to take hold, and he cruised to victory.

Beyond the primary battle, the surge of negative advertising could start to harm Mr. Trump’s general election prospects.

It started in earnest in December, when Right to Rise, a group supporting Jeb Bush, spent $2.1 million on an ad portraying Mr. Trump as a “bully.” At the time, Mr. Trump had relatively high unfavorable ratings compared with the other candidates: 57 percent among all Americans, according to a CNN/ORC poll from that month.

But as the ads began to increase in frequency and the tone turned more negative, his national unfavorable rating began to climb unabated. A CNN/ORC poll last month found that it was up 10 points from December, to 67 percent: 11 points higher than any other candidate still in the race, Republican or Democrat.

Mike Murphy, who was the chief strategist for Right to Rise, said the ads had kept Mr. Trump from consolidating more support in the Republican primary.

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