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Timeless Strategy Meets New Medium: Going Negative on Congressional Campaign Websites, 2002-2006 (WP-09-06)

James N. Druckman, Martin Kifer, and Michael Parkin

In a few short years, the World Wide Web has become a standard part of candidates’ campaign tool kits. Virtually all candidates have their own sites; and voters, journalists, and activists visit the sites with increasing frequency. In this paper, the authors study what candidates do on these sites—in terms of the information they present—by exploring one of the most enduring and widely debated campaign strategies: “going negative.” Comparing data from over 700 congressional candidate websites, over three election cycles (2002, 2004, and 2006), with television advertising data, they show that candidates go negative with similar likelihoods across these media. They also find that while similar dynamics drive negativity on the Web and in television advertising, there are some notable differences. These differences likely stem, in part, from the truncated sample available with television data (i.e., many candidates do not produce ads). Their results have implications for understanding negative campaigning, and for the ways in which scholars can study campaign dynamics. 

James N. Druckman, Associate Professor of Political Science; and Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Martin Kifer, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Michael Parkin, Assistant Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

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