It's hard to learn much about the issues when these are the main talking points of the campaign, Frye said. "It's very frustrating. It seems they're just not addressing the issues and that they'd rather just attack each other. ... When one person is slamming the other, that doesn't do too much for me."
"This is all you see on TV," said Bob Dimambro of Beverly, Mass. When the negative campaign ads come on, he nods, "I change the channel. You can only listen to so much. It's like they're trying to drill it into your head."
The drilling often works in the subconscious, Dimambro conceded. Whether true or not, a negative message can subtly lower the esteem felt for this or that competitor. And it's all the more maddening when, as in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, he likes both candidates.
In some cases the ads, if you can trust them — a very big if — provide useful information, said Dimambro. And that's true even when you wish you hadn't heard it, he added.
Mickey Boltas of Danvers, Mass., makes that point even clearer. "Scott Brown," he says. "A great guy. I like him. But he leans toward the wealthier people."
That Brown, who portrays himself as a pickup driving everyman, favors "millionaires and billionaires" over the middle class has been the thrust of Warren's campaign. Brown, meanwhile, has attacked Warren's "fake" claims of Native American heritage, suggesting she got an unfair advantage from it.
Boltas doesn't think negative ads are always helpful. He sees one or gets a mailing, and "I kind of shake my head. They're sometimes confusing" because they can feature quotes taken out of context, exaggerations and outright falsehoods.