Comparing the Effectiveness of Positive and Negative Political Campaigns (2022)

This research admittedly has several limitations, not the least of which is the very real complexity of elections, a complexity that has always hindered research on the subject. While the evidence reviewed in this article does suggest that positive campaigns are more effective and desirable than negative campaigns, running a positive campaign can never guarantee a victory for any candidate in and of itself. There are simply too many other variables that play a significant role in elections for any one of them to be a silver bullet. For instance, things as seemingly trivial as a candidate’s physical attributes have been shown repeatedly by social scientists to correlate positively with winning elections.

Examples of these characteristics are a candidate’s “facial appearance, height, body weight, race, age…, and sex” (Antonakis, 2011, p. 274), and all of these have found their way into the spotlight of the political discourse over the past several years. In 2008, many were worried about Republican, John McCain’s age during his run for president; also in 2008, race took the stage with Barack Obama becoming the first African American president in U.S. history; weight has been a significant concern for presidential hopeful Chris Christie, and Hillary Clinton is currently poised to become the Democratic Party’s first female nominee for president.

Numerous other variables that factor into elections can be found in Allan J. Lichtman’s Keys to the White House. This book contains a 13 “key” system for predicting the popular vote in presidential elections, a system that has accurately predicted every such election since 1860 with only two exceptions. While the book is intended specifically to predict the outcomes of presidential elections, however, several of the keys it mentions are of significance in congressional and gubernatorial elections as well.

Some examples include the incumbency of a candidate, the absence of major scandal, the advent of major social unrest, the state of the economy, major policy changes, the charisma of the incumbent-party candidate, and the charisma of a challenger. Jacobson (2006) also shows that campaign spending in congressional elections consistently and positively reflects how well challengers do in such contests (p. 201), and Hillygus and Shields (2004) show that party affiliation within the electorate is incredibly important as both Republicans and Democrats tend to be “exceedingly loyal to their party’s candidate regardless of their position on the issues” (p. 203).

In addition to the wide variety of variables that can impact campaigns and make it difficult to isolate and quantify the results of positive campaigning, the general conclusion of this article – that positive campaigns are more effective than their counterparts – is largely theoretical, though based as much as possible on evidence from empirical studies and real life happenings.

In order to effectively measure the effect of positive campaigning, studies should focus on campaigns within districts and states that have mostly identical numbers of Republican and Democratic voters and a large percentage of unaffiliated voters between the two parties. To the extent possible, such research should also control for other variables affecting campaigns by selecting races in which there is no incumbent running, where both candidates share similar physical characteristics, where each candidate has similar access to funds, and where policy and the economy are in a general state of quiet equilibrium.

The preponderance of the evidence shows that positive campaigns are more effective than negative ones. Psychology teaches us that people prefer and are more trusting of positive and kind people as compared to negative ones. This preference would logically extend into the sphere of elections, making people more likely to trust and vote for candidates who run a positive and clean campaign.

When considering the viability of the various studies conducted in social science, a comparison of the methods used in said studies necessarily indicates that greater weight should be given to the studies that show a mobilizing effect for positive campaigns and a demobilizing effect for negative campaigns, again indicating that positive campaigns will increase the total number of voters in an election and that, logically, the majority of the voters who would have stayed home had a campaign been negative will vote for the candidate whose positive campaign drew them to the polls. The success of Ken Hechler, Deb Fischer, and Pat McCrory further indicate that smart, hard-working people who run positive campaigns will be rewarded for their efforts.

Those who their campaign cleanly will perform better than those who do not.

Americans dislike negative campaigns. Those who are more educated want candidates to focus on issues. Those who are less educated, want candidates who make it easier for them to participate in elections by not forcing them to wade through an ocean of facts to discern the truth of each and every negative comment made about a candidate’s opponent. Candidates are “perceived as stronger when they [present] positive ads” (Basil, Schooler, & Reeves, 1991, p. 256); they are better liked, and those who use negative ads are deemed less favorable for doing so.

The inescapable implication of these facts is that those who their campaign cleanly will perform better than those who do not. Politicians and would-be politicians alike should take notice of this. Not only will a general shift away from conventional trends improve their performance, it will also improve the quality of democracy in America as more citizens exercise their right and responsibility to vote. Any politician who claims a love for democracy, then, should show that love by taking the high road in campaigns. In this case, integrity need not even be the only motivation for doing so. While that would be ideal, the evidence shows that running a positive campaign is simply the most logical thing to do.

Abramo, Z., Beam, M., Butner, J., & Lane, J. (2012, November 9). Running a Positive Campaign Can Be Done. UNCW Department of Communication Studies. University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Ansolabehere, S., Iyengar, S., & Simon, A. (1999). Replicating Experiments Using Aggregate and Survey Data: The Case of Negative Advertising and Turnout. The American Political Science Review, 93, 901-09.

Ansolabehere, S. & Iyengar, S. (1996). Going Negative: How Campaign Advertising Shrinks and Polarizes the Electorate. New York: Free Press.

Ansolabehere, S., Iyengar, S., Simon, A., & Valentino, N. (1994). Does Attack Advertising Demobilize the Electorate? The American Political Science Review, 88, 829-38.

Antonakis, J. (2011). Predictors of Leadership: The Usual Suspects and the Suspect Traits. In The SAGE Handbook of Leadership. Eds. Alan Bryman, David Collinson, Keith Grint, Brad Jackson, and Mary Uhl-Bien. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 269-84.

(Video) The Effect of Negative Political Advertising

Bailey, K. (2008). Methods of Social Research. 4th ed. New York: Free Press.

Bamesberger, M. (2012, November 6). Backers Salute Fischer for ‘Positive’ Campaign. Journal Star [Lincoln, NE].

Basil, M., Schooler, C., & Reeves, B. (1991). Positive and Negative Political Advertising: Effectiveness of ads and Perceptions of Candidates. In Television and Political Advertising: Volume I: Psychological Processes. Ed. Frank Biocca. London: Routledge, 245-62.

Cabrera, E. F. (2012). The Six Essentials of Workplace Positivity. People & Strategy, 35, 50-60.

Carraro, L., Gawronski, B., & Castelli, L. (2010). Losing on All Fronts: The Effect of Negative versus Positive Person-based Campaigns on Implicit and Explicit Evaluations of Political Candidates. The British Journal of Psychology, 49, 453-70.

Cohn, H. (1959). How to Get Elected to Congress. Pageant.

Dalakas, V., Madrigal, R., & Anderson, K.L. (2004). ‘We Are Number One!’ The Phenomenon of Basking-in-Reflected-Glory and Its Implications for Sports Marketing. In Sports Marketing and the Psychology of Marketing Communication. Eds. Lynn R. Kahle and Chris Riley. London: Psychology Press, 67-79.

Desposato, S. (2007). The Impact of Campaign Messages in New Democracies: Results from an Experiment in Brazil.

Donahue, S. (2011). The Effects of Negative Political Advertising on Young College-Educated Voters. Unpublished Manuscript.

Goldstein, K. & Freedman. P. (2002). Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect. The Journal of Politics, 64, 721-40.

Hillygus, D. S. & Shields, T.G. (2005). Moral Issues and Voter Decision Making in the 2004 Presidential Election. Political Science & Politics, 38, 201-9.

Hibbing, J. R. & Elizabeth T. (2002). Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs about How Government Should Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hudson, M. (2012, October 3). Democratic Leaders Endorse Pat McCrory for Governor. Beach Carolina Magazine.

Jacobson, G. C. (2006). Measuring Campaign Spending Effects in U.S. House Elections. In Capturing Campaign Effects. Eds. Henry E. Brady and Richard Johnston. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 199-220.

Kahn, K. F. & Kenney, P.J. (1999). Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize or suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship between Negativity and Participation. American Political Science Review, 93, 877-89.

Kamber, V. (1997). Poison Politics: Are Negative Campaigns Destroying Democracy? New York: Basic Books.

(Video) Why political parties run attack ads even if you don’t like them

Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L., & Rovner, I.B. (2007). The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment. The Journal of Politics, 69, 1176-1209.

Lichtman, A. J. (2008) The Keys to the White House: A Surefire Guide to Predicting the Next President. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lipsitz, K., Trost, C., Grossmann, M., & Sides, J. (2005). What Voters Want From Political Campaign Communication. Political Communication, 22, 337-54.

Martin, P. S. (2004). Inside the Black Box of Negative Campaign Effects: Three Reasons Why Negative Campaigns Mobilize.” Political Psychology, 25, 545-62.

Min, Y. (2004). News Coverage of Negative Political Campaigns. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 9, 95-111.

Political Rules of the Road: Representatives, Senators and Presidents Share Their Rules for Success in Congress, Politics, and Life. (2009). Eds. Lou Frey Jr. and Aubrey Jewett. Lanham: University Press of America

Powell, R. R. (1997). Basic Research Methods for Librarians. 3rd ed. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Staw, B. M. (2013). The Dispositional Approach to Job Attitudes: An Empirical and Conceptual Review.” In Personality and Organizations. Eds. Benjamin Schneider and D. Brent Smith. London: Psychology Press, 163-91.

Trent, J. S., Friedenberg, R.V., & Denton, R.E. (2011). Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices. 7th ed. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tysver, R. (2012, May 16). Fischer Trips Bruning, Will Take on Kerrey for Senate Seat. Kearney Hub [Kearney, NE].

Walton, D. (2012, November 6). Victorious Fischer: “I will stand for you.” Journal Star [Lincoln, NE].

WRAL News. (2012, November 7). McCrory to Take Team Approach to Tackling NC’s Problems. [Raleigh, NC].

Warren, K. F. ed. (2012). Encyclopedia of U.S. Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Weisbecker, L. (2012, November 7). N.C. Gov. – Elect McCrory: We did not run one negative ad during campaign. Triangle Business Journal.

Abramo, Z., Beam, M., Butner, J., & Lane, J. (2012, November 9). Running a Positive Campaign Can Be Done. UNCW Department of Communication Studies. University of North Carolina Wilmington.

(Video) 4 Years of the Trump Presidency in 6 Minutes | NYT Politics

Ansolabehere, S., Iyengar, S., & Simon, A. (1999). Replicating Experiments Using Aggregate and Survey Data: The Case of Negative Advertising and Turnout. The American Political Science Review, 93, 901-09.

Ansolabehere, S. & Iyengar, S. (1996). Going Negative: How Campaign Advertising Shrinks and Polarizes the Electorate. New York: Free Press.

Ansolabehere, S., Iyengar, S., Simon, A., & Valentino, N. (1994). Does Attack Advertising Demobilize the Electorate? The American Political Science Review, 88, 829-38.

Antonakis, J. (2011). Predictors of Leadership: The Usual Suspects and the Suspect Traits. In The SAGE Handbook of Leadership. Eds. Alan Bryman, David Collinson, Keith Grint, Brad Jackson, and Mary Uhl-Bien. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 269-84.

Bailey, K. (2008). Methods of Social Research. 4th ed. New York: Free Press.

Bamesberger, M. (2012, November 6). Backers Salute Fischer for ‘Positive’ Campaign. Journal Star [Lincoln, NE].

Basil, M., Schooler, C., & Reeves, B. (1991). Positive and Negative Political Advertising: Effectiveness of ads and Perceptions of Candidates. In Television and Political Advertising: Volume I: Psychological Processes. Ed. Frank Biocca. London: Routledge, 245-62.

Cabrera, E. F. (2012). The Six Essentials of Workplace Positivity. People & Strategy, 35, 50-60.

Carraro, L., Gawronski, B., & Castelli, L. (2010). Losing on All Fronts: The Effect of Negative versus Positive Person-based Campaigns on Implicit and Explicit Evaluations of Political Candidates. The British Journal of Psychology, 49, 453-70.

Cohn, H. (1959). How to Get Elected to Congress. Pageant.

Dalakas, V., Madrigal, R., & Anderson, K.L. (2004). ‘We Are Number One!’ The Phenomenon of Basking-in-Reflected-Glory and Its Implications for Sports Marketing. In Sports Marketing and the Psychology of Marketing Communication. Eds. Lynn R. Kahle and Chris Riley. London: Psychology Press, 67-79.

Desposato, S. (2007). The Impact of Campaign Messages in New Democracies: Results from an Experiment in Brazil.

Donahue, S. (2011). The Effects of Negative Political Advertising on Young College-Educated Voters. Unpublished Manuscript.

Goldstein, K. & Freedman. P. (2002). Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect. The Journal of Politics, 64, 721-40.

Hillygus, D. S. & Shields, T.G. (2005). Moral Issues and Voter Decision Making in the 2004 Presidential Election. Political Science & Politics, 38, 201-9.

Hibbing, J. R. & Elizabeth T. (2002). Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs about How Government Should Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(Video) Which voting system is the best? - Alex Gendler

Hudson, M. (2012, October 3). Democratic Leaders Endorse Pat McCrory for Governor. Beach Carolina Magazine.

Jacobson, G. C. (2006). Measuring Campaign Spending Effects in U.S. House Elections. In Capturing Campaign Effects. Eds. Henry E. Brady and Richard Johnston. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 199-220.

Kahn, K. F. & Kenney, P.J. (1999). Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize or suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship between Negativity and Participation. American Political Science Review, 93, 877-89.

Kamber, V. (1997). Poison Politics: Are Negative Campaigns Destroying Democracy? New York: Basic Books.

Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L., & Rovner, I.B. (2007). The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment. The Journal of Politics, 69, 1176-1209.

Lichtman, A. J. (2008) The Keys to the White House: A Surefire Guide to Predicting the Next President. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lipsitz, K., Trost, C., Grossmann, M., & Sides, J. (2005). What Voters Want From Political Campaign Communication. Political Communication, 22, 337-54.

Martin, P. S. (2004). Inside the Black Box of Negative Campaign Effects: Three Reasons Why Negative Campaigns Mobilize.” Political Psychology, 25, 545-62.

Min, Y. (2004). News Coverage of Negative Political Campaigns. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 9, 95-111.

Political Rules of the Road: Representatives, Senators and Presidents Share Their Rules for Success in Congress, Politics, and Life. (2009). Eds. Lou Frey Jr. and Aubrey Jewett. Lanham: University Press of America

Powell, R. R. (1997). Basic Research Methods for Librarians. 3rd ed. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Staw, B. M. (2013). The Dispositional Approach to Job Attitudes: An Empirical and Conceptual Review.” In Personality and Organizations. Eds. Benjamin Schneider and D. Brent Smith. London: Psychology Press, 163-91.

Trent, J. S., Friedenberg, R.V., & Denton, R.E. (2011). Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices. 7th ed. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tysver, R. (2012, May 16). Fischer Trips Bruning, Will Take on Kerrey for Senate Seat. Kearney Hub [Kearney, NE].

Walton, D. (2012, November 6). Victorious Fischer: “I will stand for you.” Journal Star [Lincoln, NE].

WRAL News. (2012, November 7). McCrory to Take Team Approach to Tackling NC’s Problems. [Raleigh, NC].

(Video) Political Campaigns, Top to Bottom: Communicating with Voters of Every Age | Part four

Warren, K. F. ed. (2012). Encyclopedia of U.S. Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Weisbecker, L. (2012, November 7). N.C. Gov. – Elect McCrory: We did not run one negative ad during campaign. Triangle Business Journal.

FAQs

What is the effect of negative campaigning? ›

Risks and consequences

Some strategists say that an effect of negative campaigning is that while it motivates the base of support it can alienate centrist and undecided voters from the political process, reducing voter turnout and radicalizing politics.

Does negative advertising have an effect on voter turnout quizlet? ›

While there are some studies, such as Iyengar and Ansolabehere, suggest that negative ads depress voter turnout, most of the recent studies show that negative advertising has a positive impact on voter turnout.

What is the importance of election campaign? ›

The election campaigns are conducted to have a free and open discussion about who is a better representative and in turn, which party will make a better government. In India, Election Campaigns take place for a two-week period between the announcement of the final list of candidates and the date of polling.

What is a negative political ad called? ›

Attack ads often form part of negative campaigning or smear campaigns, and in large or well-financed campaigns, may be disseminated via mass media. An attack ad will generally unfairly criticize an opponent's political platform, usually by pointing out its faults.

How do negative political ads typically influence an election quizlet? ›

How do negative political ads typically influence an election? They lead to a decrease in voter participation.

What is another word for negative campaigning? ›

malicious defamation, personal attack, mudslinging, dragging one's name through the mud.

Does political campaign advertising affect voter preferences quizlet? ›

Exposure to negative rather than positive campaign ads reduced participants' interest in voting by nearly 5 percent. Independents who watched negative ads were nearly 10 percent less likely to say that they intended to vote.

What are the three factors that have the most influence on voter turnout quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (8)
  • Education. -those with more education are more likely to vote. ...
  • Income. -wealthier voters are more likely to turnout at election time. ...
  • Age. -young voters are less likely to turnout than older voters (until 70) ...
  • Gender. ...
  • Religion. ...
  • race. ...
  • Occupation. ...
  • Voter identification laws.

What does research say about the influence of negative ads in campaigns quizlet? ›

What does research say about the influence of negative ads in campaigns? They inform people about both candidates and may also increase interest in elections. What did Alexis de Tocqueville suggest about voting rights in the United States?

What is the main purpose of a political campaign? ›

A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making progress within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, by which representatives are chosen or referendums are decided.

What is the purpose of a political campaign quizlet? ›

What is the purpose of a campaign? To convince the public to vote for a particular candidate.

What is the main purpose of election? ›

An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.

How is voter turnout most likely affected by negative campaigning quizlet? ›

How is voter turnout most likely affected by negative campaigning? Voter turnout is likely lower, because many potential voters conclude that all politicians are dirty.

What is negative advertising quizlet? ›

Negative Advertising. campaign advertising that emphasizes the negative characteristics of opponents rather than one's own strengths.

How is public opinion formed? ›

Public opinion can be influenced by public relations and the political media. Additionally, mass media utilizes a wide variety of advertising techniques to get their message out and change the minds of people. Since the 1950s, television has been the main medium for molding public opinion.

What does research say about the influence of negative ads in campaigns quizlet? ›

What does research say about the influence of negative ads in campaigns? They inform people about both candidates and may also increase interest in elections. What did Alexis de Tocqueville suggest about voting rights in the United States?

What are the drawbacks that campaigners should avoid? ›

Drawbacks that campaigners should avoid executing a successful Social Media campaign against human rights violations.
...
The weaknesses that should be avoided are:
  • Human privacy Violation.
  • Discrimination.
  • Cyberbullying.
  • Criminal charges against them.
May 3, 2022

What is stumping in politics? ›

A political stump speech is a standard speech used by a politician running for office. Typically a candidate who schedules many appearances prepares a short standardized stump speech that is repeated verbatim to each audience, before opening to questions.

What is micro targeting in politics? ›

Microtargeting, often used by political parties and election campaigns, includes direct marketing datamining techniques that involve predictive market segmentation (aka cluster analysis).

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