Going Negative: How Political Advertisements Shrink and Polarize the Electorate
Stephen Ansolabehere, Shanto Iyengar
Drawing on both laboratory experiments and the real world of America's presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional races, the authors show that negative advertising drives down voter turnout - in some cases dramatically - and that political consultants intentionally use ads for this very purpose. In the 1992 presidential election, by the authors' calculation, over 6 million votes were lost to negative campaigns. Negative ads work better for Republicans than for Democrats, and better for men than for women; unfortunately, negative ads also work better in general than positive ones, so attacking has become nearly universal. Republican primary campaigns increasingly set the tone for our national general elections, and they do so with relentless attacks. Everyone, even a war hero like Colin Powell, is fair game, and few reputations can emerge unscathed. The result of such a bitter contest is that independent voters, who are disproportionately well educated and open minded, are repulsed by the entire system and have been converted to non-voting apathetics. We are losing some of our best citizens, and pandering to the extremists who remain.