The dimensions of negative messages

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Candidates and campaign strategists believe that negative campaigning works-negative messages depress citizen's evaluations of targeted candidates. However, scholars have been unable to validate consistently the claims of practitioners. To better understand how negative campaigning influences the electorate, it is necessary to consider the relevance and civility of negative messages. In particular, do citizens make distinctions concerning the relevance and civility of campaign messages? If so, do citizens' views about the relevance and civility of negative messages influence how they evaluate candidates? We rely on an experimental research design embedded in a public opinion survey to examine people's reactions to negative commercials. Based on a national survey of nearly 700 respondents, we find citizens differentiate between negative advertisements in meaningful and consistent ways. Furthermore, the civility and relevance of the negative commercials significantly influences people's evaluations of the targeted candidates in several ways, including trait, affect, and issue evaluations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)694-723
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Candidate evaluation
  • Elections
  • Experiments
  • Issue evaluation
  • Negative advertising
  • Political campaigns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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