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Going Negative in a New Media Age: Congressional Campaign Websites, 2002-2006 (WP-07-11)

James N. Druckman, Martin Kifer, and Michael Parkin

Few topics have received more attention in recent years than negative campaigning. The bulk of this work focuses on the effects of negative campaigns and/or the normative consequences. The authors address a more basic question: When do congressional candidates go negative in the first place? Their approach differs from the few works that systematically explore the determinants of negative campaigning in three notable ways. First, they offer a new theory that specifies conditions under which they expect candidates to go negative against their opponents. Second, they test their predictions using a novel dataset based on more than 730 candidate websites, over three election cycles. This means they use non-mediated communication (e.g., compared to news reports) and they have an unbiased sample of campaigns (i.e., they are not limited to competitive races that happen to produce television advertisements). They also offer insight into campaigning on this new medium. Third, they extend prior work by distinguishing issue negativity from personal attacks, and by exploring alternative types of negativity such as negativity toward the parties and the president. They find that campaign specific variables, particularly competition, drive negativity towards opponents, but other more partisan forces lead to alternative types of negativity. They discuss the implications for an understanding of campaign strategy, methodologies of studying campaigns, and studying public opinion formation.

James N. Druckman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University 

Martin Kifer, Graduate Student, University of Minnesota

Michael Parkin, Assistant Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

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