Study shows even split between positive, negative presidential ads

<i>This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom.</i>

Apparently, it just feels like really negative campaign.

Media watchers at Kantar Media have been counting ads in the presidential race and their tally shows a surprising near-even split between positive and negative ads.

Elizabeth Wilner at the firm’s Campaign Media Analysis Group notes that 51% of the 63,793 general election spots were positive, while 49% were negative. The group tracked ads aired from April 10, when Mitt Romney became the presumptive GOP nominee, to May 24. “The results defied the [conventional wisdom] that the campaign thus far has been intensely negative -- though they don’t preclude that from becoming the case,” Wilner wrote in the group’s Washington Eye memo, as first reported in Politico’s Playbook on Monday.

The numbers also seem to challenge, for now, a favorite GOP narrative -- that the Obama campaign has gone overwhelmingly negative and abandoned the warm and fuzzy, post-partisan message of the 2008 campaign. American Crossroads, a conservative advocacy group, released a video on Monday capturing this theme. The video features a mash-up of Obama’s latest attacks and high-profile critics of his strategy -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and others. The tagline is “Hope has changed to fear.”

But at least by CMAG’s numbers, the Obama campaign does not appear to be blanketing television screens with negative ads. CMAG found that 70% of the ads run by Democratic campaigns or groups were positive. Wilner says the vast majority of that advertising was run by the Obama campaign. Republican ads were mostly negative -- 73%, and most of those were run by outside groups.

It seems the Obama campaign may not have been putting the cash behind some of his most pointed attacks on his rival Mitt Romney. Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told reporters Monday that of $25 million in announced ad spending, only $100,000 was spent airing the series of ads criticizing Romney’s work at the private equity firm Bain Capital. (Those are the ads that provoked the off-message remarks from Booker.)

But a second round of negative advertising is coming. The campaign will spend about $10 million airing a new ad attacking Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, he said.

So, clearly, as Wilner notes, things may change.

[For the Record, 3:28 p.m. PDT June 4: An earlier version of this post said Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group tracked ads aired from April 10 to March 24. The tracking period was April 10 to May 24.]

Staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.