Negative Campaigning, Fundraising, and Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment
42 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2013 Last revised: 19 Jun 2013
Date Written: June 1, 2013
Negative campaigning is a recurring feature of political competition, though its persistence is puzzling in light of research showing that the public dislikes it. Why do candidates risk alienating voters by going negative? One answer may lie in the large empirical literature on persuasion indicating that negative messages are more effective than positive messages in getting individuals to do many things, including voting and purchasing goods. Negative messages may work better because they contain more information, and individuals use this to update beliefs when making decisions. Or, the tone of the message may change preferences, without providing additional information. Which element, information or tone, underlies the effectiveness of such messages has not been clearly identified. We attempt to do so by using a field experiment in two elections for local office. We test the effect of a negative letter, a positive letter, or no letter sent to partisans on two measurable activities: campaign donations and voter turnout. We find no effect of message tone on campaign donations. However, we do find that tone is important in driving voter turnout, and this effect is separate from the effect of information. In our environment, going negative never hurts the candidates.
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