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Fight For GOP Soul, SuperPACs Spur Negative Political Ad Explosion

Anyone already fatigued from the high rate of negative political ads on TV and radio may want to turn off all their electronics until after Election Day.

Because there's room for it to get significantly worse, Vanderbilt University political scientist John Geer told All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish Monday.

Geer leaves the definite impression that negative political ads are the weeds of the American political process that are crowding out everything else.

GEER: "It's been really negative this year by any kind of standard. For example, since Iowa, 75 percent of Gingrich's ads have been negative, Romney's ads about the same. The "Restore Our Future" PAC, which is the Romney PAC, almost all the ads have been negative.

"So, this stands in stark contrast to previous elections. For example, in 1980 only two percent of the ads were negative. Or even on the Republican side in 2000, just about three percent. This is unprecedented amounts of attacks unfolding. And we saw it big time in Florida."

While the barrage of negative ads is likely to be bad during the general election, the Republican primaries have seen a confluence of factors that have made for particularly fertile ground for negative ads: the introduction of superPACs collided with a war for control of the GOP between conservatives and hard conservatives.

GEER: "It's real and it's out there and I think it's only the beginning. I suspect we're going to see more and more attacks not just within the Republican Party but then once the nominee is chosen, that nominee, which I assume at this point will be Romney, Romney and (President) Obama will go at it big-time.

"...There are two things that are different. One is that you have superPACS and the superPACs are spending a lot of money and they're doing a lot of negative advertising.

"The second thing that's going on is the Republican Party has a battle for its heart and soul, so to speak. There's a battle between purists and pragmatists and this is leading to even more harsh exchanges, which has happened the last 30, 40 years but never like this. So the combination is very powerfull"

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.