It's not your imagination: This year's Republican primary season really has been drastically more negative than usual. In 2008, just 6% of GOP primary campaign advertising attacked other Republicans, but this year that figure has shot to 51%, the Washington Post reports. The tone of the ads has gotten worse too; in 2008, one Mitt Romney attack ad was sure to call John McCain an "honorable man." This year's ads aren’t nearly so nice; one Gingrich ad, for instance, accuses Romney of taking "blood money."
The driving force behind these attacks: super PACs. Since these groups can't coordinate with their chosen candidates, they have to rely on stock footage. "If they didn't run comparison or contrast ads, they would have some very boring television," says one GOP ad man. Plus, candidates needn't "approve this message" on super PAC ads, making attacks less dangerous. Still, the strategy isn't without its pitfalls—one GOP strategist notes that Romney and his super PAC have run the most negative ads, and "his favorable impression among independents has collapsed."