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2012 Already A Record Year For Political Ads

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If it seems as though political ads have taken over your TV, you're not imagining things. Political Scientists at the Wesleyan Media Project have been tracking ads throughout the 2012 presidential race. And they say with Election Day still more than a month away, the number of ads is about to surpass all ads in 2004 or 2008.

Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: In the final three weeks of September, nearly $90 million worth of ads aired in the presidential race. Erica Franklin Fowler, a professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, says a new record for number of ads should be set next week or the week after. She says that just about the only thing that hasn't taken off in the presidential air wars is the number of spots supporting Republican Mitt Romney.

ERICA FRANKLIN FOWLER: I think we all expected that after the convention that Romney and the outside interest groups would saturate and dominate the airwaves, and that just hasn't happened.

OVERBY: Instead, President Obama's reelection campaign is out-advertising Romney, the pro-Romney superPACs, and other outside groups in 14 of the top 15 markets. Pro-Romney ads dominated only in Las Vegas.

FOWLER: In a world where we know that advertising advantages lend opportunities for persuasion, it's truly mind-boggling.

OVERBY: The analysis covers ads from September 9th through the 30th. It found that just 15 percent of pro-Romney ads were positive and just two and a half percent of pro-Obama spots. On both sides, more than 60 percent of the ads were pure attacks like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Mitt Romney, tough on China? Since when?

OVERBY: And this one from the pro-Romney superPAC.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: ...both desperate attacks. With no record to run on, it's the only strategy Obama has left.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: Paid for by Restore Our Future, which is responsible...

OVERBY: Today's analysis is the fourth this year by the Wesleyan Media Project. It's run jointly by Wesleyan University, Bowdoin College and Washington State University.

The report looks at congressional races, too, where about $50 million were spent in those three weeks. It was split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The most expensive House race last month was in Ohio, around Canton, where two incumbents, Republican Jim Renacci and Democrat Betty Sutton, are facing off. It drew more than $2 million in ads, with two liberal groups and one conservative group weighing in.

Also in Ohio, last month's priciest Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel. More than half of the $6 million in ads came from outside groups, mainly for Mandel. One of those groups was CrossRoads GPS, which was on the air in eight crucial Senate contests.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: When you vote with Obama 95 percent of the time, it hurts Ohio. Don't let Sherrod Brown hurt Ohio. It's time to boot Brown.

CrossRoads GPS is responsible for the...

OVERBY: And that makes another point about the House and Senate ads. Again, Erica Franklin Fowler.

FOWLER: One out of every four since the beginning of this year mentions Obama in a disapproving way or a way in which conveys opposition.

OVERBY: And how many congressional ads speak well of the president? Fowler says that's 1.4 percent.

Peter Overby NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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