Partisan Ambivalence and Negative Campaigns: A Survey Experiment

46 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2014 Last revised: 24 Aug 2014

See all articles by Stephen Craig

Stephen Craig

Professor, University of Florida

Jason Gainous

University of Louisville

Paulina Rippere

Jacksonville University

Date Written: August 18, 2014


Studies show that going negative does not always work in political campaigns, and yet candidates and consultants are rational people whose experience has persuaded them that it can be a winning strategy under the right circumstances. As scholars continue to explore what those circumstances might be, recent work by Lavine, Johnston, and Steenbergen (2012), suggests that when a stimulus/cue prompts partisan ambivalence, motivated reasoning should vitiate and a focus on the substance of the frame should increase. Based on this logic, it follows that a campaign attack against one’s opponent will be more effective among voters who express a mix of positive and negative feelings toward the parties because they are more focused on the substance of the attack than those who are less ambivalent. The following study uses experimental data derived from a national Internet survey of registered voters to examine the effectiveness of both campaign attacks and candidates’ responses (rebuttals) to those attacks among subjects with varying levels of partisan ambivalence. Our results show that ambivalence plays an occasionally meaningful but inconsistent moderating role across a range of campaign scenarios, more so with attacks than with responses.

Suggested Citation

Craig, Stephen and Gainous, Jason and Rippere, Paulina S, Partisan Ambivalence and Negative Campaigns: A Survey Experiment (August 18, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Craig (Contact Author)

Professor, University of Florida ( email )

PO Box 117325
Gainesville, FL 32611-7325
United States
352-273-2377 (Phone)

Jason Gainous

University of Louisville ( email )

Paulina S Rippere

Jacksonville University ( email )

2800 University Blvd. N.
Jacksonville, FL 32211
United States

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