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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Negative Campaign Advertising: Demobilizer or Mobilizer


With political campaigns becoming increasingly adversarial, scholars have recently given some much-needed attention to the impact of negative advertising on turnout.In a widely recognized Review article and subsequent book, Ansolabehere and his colleagues (1994, 1995) contend that attack advertising drives potential voters away from the polls. We dispute the generalizability of these claims outside of the experimental setting. Using NES survey data as well aggregate sources, we subject this previous research to rigorous real-world testing. The survey data directly contradict Ansolabehere et al.'s findings, yielding evidence of a turnout advantage for those recollecting negative presidential campaign advertising. In attempting to replicate Ansolabehere et al’s earlier aggregate results we uncover quite significant discrepancies and inconsistencies in their dataset. This analysis leads to the conclusion that their aggregate study is hopelessly flawed. We must conclude that attack advertising’s demobilization dangers are greatly exaggerated by Ansolabehere et al., while they completely miss negative political advertising’s turnout benefits -- at least in voters’ own context.

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