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The debate over negative political advertising is extensive and much of the existing research presents conflicting views of the effectiveness of these types of ads. This study utilized data from tracking polls to examine the effectiveness of negative political advertisements in a statewide election. In this campaign the negative advertisements generated a backlash against the sponsor when the target of the attack responded quickly and forcefully but were very successful when the target did not directly respond to the charges. Negative political ads change voters' voting intentions but not their opinions of the candidates.
AS POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS have become more negative, placing a greater emphasis on negative advertising, public outcry has increased. Some critics charge that the negative tone of many political campaigns may actually serve to depress voter turnout (Budiansky, 1996). Candidates and political consultants, however, justify their use of such tactics by claiming that negative political advertising works (Perloff and Kinsey, 1992). As one professional political consultant explained, "Like pornography, voters say that they don't like negative advertising. But, they read it and watch it--and it works!" (Plaut, 1998).
The debate over negative political advertising is particularly evident in the numerous studies and articles published in the academic literature. Some studies have concluded that negative political advertising is effective (cf. Pinkleton, 1997; Faber, Tims, and Schmitt, 1993; Tinkham and Weaver-Lariscy, 1993). Weigold (1992), for example, concluded that while positive political messages raise the evaluations of the sponsoring candidate, negative political messages lower the evaluations of the targeted candidate. Johnson-Cartee and Copeland (1989) found that even after an election, two-thirds of survey respondents could recall, and describe, at least one negative political ad.
Other studies have concluded that negative political advertising is not effective and may produce a backlash against the sponsor (cf. Garramone, 1984; Merritt, 1984; Roddy and Garramone, 1988). Hill (1989), for example, found that negative political ads had little impact on evaluations of the targeted candidate but produced negative evaluations of the sponsoring candidate.
Even on the issue of a backlash effect, however, the evidence is mixed. A recent study by Pinkleton (1997) found that evaluations of the sponsor became more positive when a moderately negative ad was presented but declined when a particularly negative ad was used. Roddy and Garramone (1988) concluded that a backlash effect was dependent upon how the targeted candidate responded to the attack. Weigold (1992), on the other hand, concluded that "little evidence was found for any kind of boomerang effect."
This paper presents a case study of a statewide primary election which was heavily dependent upon negative advertising. The data for this case study were supplied by an actual campaign and were gathered by a professional research company throughout the course of the campaign. The results of this case study suggest that negative political advertising can have significant and unanticipated consequences. Furthermore, this case study raises several important issues for both practitioners and academic researchers.
The campaign examined by this case study pitted two well-known opponents against each other in a hard-fought party primary. This primary generated widespread public attention because the candidates were seeking a major statewide …