2022 is set to be the most expensive midterm election in history. But the political science research is murky on how much that matters.

For anyone living in a media market featuring contested political races—especially places such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Atlanta—these are the jackhammer months. Never in an off-year election have so many campaign spots been aired. TV spending will more than double from 2018 levels, according to estimates by the analytical firm AdImpact. The Wesleyan Media Project, which studies campaign commercials, calculated that more than two million ads had aired on broadcast television by early August—long before campaigns began their fall offensive.

Since most voters have been inundated with campaign ads their entire lives, there is a sense that Americans are sophisticated about them. We can all recognize attack ads with their grainy photos and voice-of-doom narration, as well as positive spots shot in close-up featuring the candidate walking the streets of the neighborhood where he or she grew up.

Travis Ridout.

It is a truism of politics that negative ads are more powerful than positive spots because they are mentioned more frequently in focus groups. Vavreck and her co-authors did not test the effectiveness of different types of ads. But Travis Ridout, a professor of political science at Washington State University and a co-director of the Wesleyan Advertising Project, said, “According to the best studies, negative ads are not more effective than positive ads.”

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The New Republic