Getting Tough on China: Are Campaign Ads A Signal of Future Policy or Just Cheap Talk?

Legislative Studies Quarterly

24 Pages Posted: 15 May 2020 Last revised: 24 Nov 2020

See all articles by Amber Wichowsky

Amber Wichowsky

Marquette University

Jessica Chen Weiss

Cornell University - Department of Government

Date Written: April 20, 2020


Is tough-on-China campaign rhetoric cheap talk or a signal of policy attention? Analyzing China-related campaign advertisements during the 2010 midterm elections and subsequent cosponsorship of China-related bills, we find that campaign ads are a noisy predictor of legislative attention. Challengers who attacked on China were more likely to cosponsor China-related legislation, while incumbents who were attacked for being soft on China took tougher positions on China after reelection. By demonstrating the correspondence between anti-China campaign appeals and subsequent legislative attention, our findings add to a growing body of evidence linking campaign rhetoric to members’ legislative agendas. This research note provides the first evidence demonstrating the connection between campaign appeals and legislative attention on a foreign policy issue like China.

Suggested Citation

Wichowsky, Amber and Weiss, Jessica Chen, Getting Tough on China: Are Campaign Ads A Signal of Future Policy or Just Cheap Talk? (April 20, 2020). Legislative Studies Quarterly, Available at SSRN: or

Amber Wichowsky

Marquette University ( email )

Jessica Chen Weiss (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Department of Government ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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