The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment

This article discusses the effects of negative political campaigns on aspects such as how it affects society as a whole and democracy in general. Findings indicate that there is trend and negative political campaigns or attack ads have alarmingly grown in use by politicians. It has been reported that ‘whereas only 1% and 46%, respectively, of the ads sponsored by the Democratic and Republican Congressional Campaign Committees [USA] in 2004 were negative, in 2006 those figures skyrocketed to 83% and 89% (CQ Weekly, 2006).


Thus we first focus on why such negativity abound in political campaigns and why it is so popular. There are a number of benefits to negative political campaigning such as the ability to draw the attention of the crowd and it is advantageous to the attacker or user of such negative campaigning. With regards to the former, May explains that ‘voters don’t pay much attention to campaign ads…but when they’re negative they do’ (May, 2006). The latter was elaborated by Romero and Reynolds. Romero claims that ‘ugly, combative, negative advertising targeting a political opponent works’ (Richard Romero; quoted by Quigley 2006). Reynolds additionally comments that ‘if positive advertisements moved things to the extent that negative ads move things, there would be more of them’ (Thomas Reynolds; quoted by Nagourney 2006).


Results from the study of the consequences of negative political campaigning show that negative ads are somewhat easier for its audience to remember. Secondly, negative campaigning actually had positive effects such as increasing the political knowledge of the public. There has also been a greater increase in campaign interest perhaps linked to the earlier point on increasing political knowledge.


The efficacy of such negative campaigns was also questioned and examined thoroughly. We need to first understand the objective of such negative campaigns; to portray the opposition as insignificant and unworthy of any votes. In essence, negative campaigning does drive affect for the target of attacks down but also lessens affect for the attacker. As such, it is a double-edged sword with benefits as well as disadvantages.


Apart for this, the article also explored how negative campaigns may harm the political system. The demobilisation hypothesis holds that negative campaigning alienates many potential voters from politics in general and from electoral politics in general. This in turn results in a lower voter turnout during political rallies. This demobilisation effect could also lower the general public’s satisfaction with the government.



1. May, Patrick (2006) Ads Reach New Lows. San Jose Mercury News, June 2.

2. Nagourney, Adam (2006) New Campaign Ads Have a Theme: Don’t Be Nice. New York Times, September 27.

3. Quigley, Winthrop (2006) Why Mud Works in Political but Not Product Ads. Albuquerque Journal, August 3, 2006, Business Outlook, p. 3.

4. Lau, Richard R., Sigelman, Lee, Rovner, Ivy Brown (2007) ‘The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment.’ The Journal of Politics. 69 (4), pp. 1176-1209.




4 comments so far

  1. tarrycher on

    According to experts, negative political campaign does not affect voter turnout or sway those who are already convinced one way or the other. Instead the power of negativity may compel people to seek out more information about candidates and in turn influencing the undecided. Furthermore, as we are all emotional creatures, we are wired to pay attention to harmful information.

    • fireprism on

      I agree with your point that negativity towards certain issues can cause greater public awareness leading to the idea that a positive outcome is possible even though circumstances may be negative.

  2. slky87 on

    According to Rick Farmer, assistant professor at the University of Akron found that negative ads are more memorable and voters will reinforce their preexisting beliefs of the party. Therefore, supporters of the parties will further enhance their support for their ideal candidates (Viewing the opposition as villain for pro-ruling voters and as victim for anti-ruling party).

    As a result negative campaigning key audience are the swing voters as they are indecisive and more easier to be swayed by the negative news.

    • fireprism on

      Yes, your point is in line with what was discussed in the article. It is no wonder that there is so much of negative political campaigning as it has so far proven rather effective.

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