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. We address a more basic question: when do Congressional candidates go negative in the first place? Our approach differs from the few works that systematically explore the determinants of negative campaigning in three notable ways. First, we offer a new theory that specifies conditions under which we expect candidates to go negative against their opponents. Second, we test our predictions using a novel data set based on more than 730 candidate websites, over three election cycles. This means we use non-mediated communication (e.g., compared to news reports) and we have an unbiased sample of campaigns (i.e., we are not limited to competitive races that happen to produce television advertisements). We also offer insight into campaigning on this new medium.   Third, we 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. We find that campaign specific variables, particularly competition, drive negativity towards opponents, but other more partisan forces lead to alternative types of negativity. We 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 School, University of Minnesota
Michael Parkin, Assistant Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

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