Negativity and Television Advertising in State Supreme Court Elections
36 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 11 Oct 2009
Date Written: 2009
This project evaluates whether television advertising and the changing electoral climate brought about by Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002) have had detrimental effects on voting in state supreme court elections. Almost universally, judicial elections - particularly expensive campaigns using attack advertising - are being condemned for having deleterious effects on citizens, judges, and courts. In fact, the consequences are believed to be so severe that leading advocacy groups are seeking to eliminate the practice of electing judges altogether. We examine these serious contentions by evaluating: 1) whether voters are “turned off” by aggressive campaigns and thus decline to vote and 2) whether broad interpretations of White have reduced citizen participation by poisoning the electoral climate with political messages and other campaign activities unbefitting judges. In doing so, we control for factors beyond campaigns that influence the propensity to vote. Our specific focus is on partisan and nonpartisan supreme court elections from 2002 through 2006. We also use CMAG advertising data and official campaign finance reports, to distinguish the effects of campaign spending generally from television advertising in particular. Overall, we find no evidence that citizen participation is influenced by advertising exposure or by contrast or promote ads. Voting also is not influenced by broad interpretations of White allowing greater latitude for political speech. However, attack ads increase citizen participation. These findings of the mobilizing effects of attack advertising highlight the striking similarities between supreme court elections and elections to other important legislative and executive offices and add to a formidable body of empirical evidence demonstrating that the sharp attacks on judicial elections merit careful scrutiny and critical reassessment.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation