Do negative messages work? The impact of negativity on citizens' evaluations of candidates

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94 Scopus citations


We examine the effectiveness of negative campaigning. Specifically, we focus on the question, Do negative campaign messages alter citizens' evaluations of competing candidates? We rely on a research design that replicates the campaign environment for nearly 100 Senate elections involving thousands of voters. Furthermore, we utilize a theoretical framework that sheds light on how negative information influences people's social judgments. In general, the results suggest that negative messages delivered in a legitimate fashion and focusing on a relevant topic depress evaluations of opponents. In contrast, negative messages containing irrelevant information delivered in an overly strident manner depress evaluations of both candidates involved in the campaign. In addition, the findings indicate that the impact of negative messages varies depending on (a) the status of the candidate delivering the message, (b) the characteristics of the citizens receiving the message, and (c) the style of the candidates' criticisms (e.g., policy vs. personal attacks).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-605
Number of pages36
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Candidate evaluations
  • Mudslinging
  • Negative campaigning
  • Senate elections

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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