Negative campaigning (Election Campaigning Communication)

Authors

  • Desiree Steppat
  • Laia Castro Herrero

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.34778/4g

Keywords:

negative campaigning, political communication, elections campaigns, political ads, negativity, positive ads

Abstract

One of the most crucial decisions political candidates make ahead of an election is whether they want to focus on their image or that of their   their political opponents in their advertisement (Lau and Rovner , 2009). During electoral campaigns, candidates need to decide whether they use political advertisement to display a positive image of themselves or whether they try to make the opponent look bad. The first strategy is referred to as Acclaim or Positive Ads. The second approach, according to Surlin and Gordon is called Negative Campaigning and is applied by a political candidate when (s)he “attacks the other candidate personally, the issues for which the other candidate stands, or the party of the other candidate” (1977, p. 93). However, measuring negative campaigning poses a challenge to academic research since content analyses often fail to address the grey areas of this concept. To begin with, many political ads compare positive characteristics of a candidate against opponents’ more negative ones. (Lau & Rovner, 2009). Ads that contain both strategies, shedding positive light on the candidate while also highlighting negative aspects about the opponent’s character or policies are called Comparison or Comparative Ads. These comparisons are difficult to code with straightforward approaches. For example, analyzing campaigns along a positive/negative dichotomy by discounting attacks to the opponent from positive self-presentations may equate strongly positively and negatively charged political advertising to neutral campaigns. Also, negativity in political campaigning is studied in different contexts and has been extended as a number of studies on negative campaigning look in particular at Attacks and Rebuttals/Defense from opponents after an attack (Benoit, 2000; Benoit & Airne, 2009; Erigha & Charles, 2012; Lee & Benoit, 2004; Torres, Hyman, & Hamilton, 2012). This distinction raises other important methodological and theoretical implications. Sweeping measures of negativity based on common scholarly definitions do not consider voters’ tolerance towards the use of certain forms of negativity by candidates (for example, rebutting an attack from an opponent) that may be perceived as legitimate. Not accounting for such nuances is what makes many negativity measures unable to accurately gauge the effects of negative campaigning among the electorate (Sigelman & Kugler, 2003).

 

Field of application/theoretical foundation:

Negative campaigning and its related constructs (such as attacks or rebuttals) have been often associated with current trends in political communication of modernization and professionalization of election campaigns (Voltmer, 2004). Negative campaigning is indeed a development that can be observed across many different political contexts (Kaid & Holtz-Bacha, 2006). Campaign strategies using negative messages about a political opponent have been studied relying on theories from social and cognitive psychology (Kahn & Kenney, 1999; Lau, 1985) and mostly in regard to their potential consequences for a healthy democracy (Lau & Rovner, 2009). Their operationalization follows a simple schema by coding whether a certain construct is present in a given advertising piece or not. Alternatively, it is coded which kind of category best reflects on the content of a given political advertisement.

 

References/combination with other methods of data collection:

Negative campaigning and related constructs have been studied through content analysis both of paid advertisement (Benoit, 2000) and news coverage by the mass media (Lau & Pomper, 2004); The features and effects of negative campaigning   have also been analyzed through voter surveys (Brader, 2005, 2006) and interviews with campaign managers (Kahn & Kenney, 1999). Its effects were furthermore more precisely measured through numerous experimental studies (Ansolabehere, Iyengar, Simon, & Valentino, 1994; overview see: Lau et al., 2007). 

 

Example studies:

Table 1: Overview exemplary studies measuring of negative campaigning and related constructs 

Authors

Sample

Unit of analysis

Constructs

Values

Reliability

Benoit (2000), Benoit & Airne (2009), Lee & Benoit (2004)

 

Television ads, direct mail, newspaper ads, and candidate web pages

Acclaim

Acclaims portray the sponsored candidate in a favorable light, both his/her character and/or policy (Benoit, 2000, 281, 295)

 

0 = not present

1 = present

Cohen’s kappa average = .96

Erigha & Charles (2012)

 

Television and web advertisements

Non-negative/ advocacy

A non-negative/advocacy ad favors a party’s candidate, focusing solely on that individual.

 

1 = non-negative / advocacy

2 = comparison

3= attack ads

(exclusive options)

Cohen’s kappa average = .96

Torres et al. (2012)

 

Presidential candidate–sponsored TV ads

Non-comparative ad

If the ad simply mentions positive attributes of a particular candidate without mentioning an opponent,  the ad is coded as a non-comparison

(positive) ad (p. 196)

 

1 = comparative ad

2 = negative ad

3= non-comparative ad

(exclusive options)

Cohen’s kappa average = .98

Steffan & Venema (2019)

 

Campaign posters

Textual negative campaigning

 

Visual negative campaigning

Based on Lau and Pomper’s (2002), textual/visual negative campaiging indicates whether the image / text on the campaign posters referred to other political parties or candidates. (p. 273)

 

0 = not present

1 = present

Visual negative campaigning:

Krippendorff’s  α = .82

 

Textual negative campaigning:

Krippendorff’s  α = .84

 

Torres et al. (2012)

 

Presidential candidate–sponsored TV ads

Negative ad

If the ad criticizes the opposing party and/or candidate but offers no alternative (in essence, the ad presents negative information about an opponent but no information about the candidate on whose behalf it is run), then the ad is coded as a negative ad.

 

1 = comparative ad

2 = negative ad

3= non-comparative ad

(exclusive options)

Cohen’s kappa average = .98

Ceccobelli (2018)

 

Facebook posts

Negative rhetorical strategy

The posts taken into consideration are those in which leaders employ a purely negative campaigning strategy. Cases in which a hypothetic leader A attacks one or more political opponents by comparing his/her own figure or policy proposal with the one(s) of her/his competitor(s) are not coded, since they denote a comparative rhetorical strategy (p. 129)

 

0 = not present

1 = present

Krippendorff’s  α average = .85

 

Benoit (2000), Benoit & Airne (2009), Lee & Benoit (2004)

 

Television spots, direct mail pieces, newspaper ads, and candidate web pages

Attack

Portrays the opposing candidate in an unfavorable light, both his/her character and/or policy (Benoit, 2000, 281, 295)

 

0 = not present

1 = present

Cohen’s kappa average = .96

Erigha & Charles (2012)

 

Television and web advertisements

Attack ads

Attack ads criticize the opposing candidate without referencing the sponsoring party’s candidate (p. 443)

 

1 = non-negative / advocacy

2 = comparison

3= attack ads

(exclusive options)

Cohen's kappa average = .96

Benoit (2000), Benoit & Airne (2009), Lee & Benoit (2004)

 

Television spots, direct mail pieces, newspaper ads, and candidate web pages

Defense

Defense responds to (refutes) an attack on the candidate, both on his/her character and/or policy (Benoit, 2000, 281, 295)

 

0 = not present

1 = present

Cohen’s kappa average = .96

Erigha & Charles (2012)

 

Television and web advertisements

Comparison

A comparison ad weighs two credentials, characteristics, or policystances (p. 443)

 

1 = non-negative / advocacy

2 = comparison

3= attack ads

(exclusive options)

Cohen's kappa average = .956

Torres et al. (2012)

 

Presidential candidate–sponsored TV ads

Comparative ad

If the ad criticizes the opposing party and/or candidate and recommends alternative courses of action by comparing two candidates on specific points so as to present one in a more positive and the other in a more negative light, then the ad is coded as a comparative ad (p. 195)

 

1 = comparative ad

2 = negative ad

3= non-comparative ad

(exclusive options)

Cohen’s kappa average = .98

 

References

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Benoit, W. L. (2000). A Functional Analysis of Political Advertising across Media, 1998. Communication Studies, 51(3), 274–295. https://doi.org/10.1080/10510970009388524

Benoit, W. L., & Airne, D. (2009). Non-Presidential Political Advertising in Campaign 2004. Human Communication, 12(1), 91–117.

Brader, T. (2005). Striking a Responsive Chord: How Political Ads Motivate and Persuade Voters by Appealing to Emotions. American Journal of Political Science, 49(2), 388. https://doi.org/10.2307/3647684

Brader, T. (2006). Campaigning for hearts and minds: How emotional appeals in political ads work. Studies in communication, media, and public opinion. Chicago, Ill.: Univ. of Chicago Press. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0622/2005009159-b.html

Buell, E. H., & Sigelman, L. (2008). Attack politics: Negativity in presidential campaigns since 1960. Studies in government and public policy. Lawrence, Kan.: Univ. Press of Kansas.

Ceccobelli, D. (2018). Not Every Day is Election Day: a Comparative Analysis of Eighteen Election Campaigns on Facebook. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 15(2), 122–141. https://doi.org/10.1080/19331681.2018.1449701

Erigha, M., & Charles, C. Z. (2012). Other, Uppity Obama: A Content Analysis of Race Appeals in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 9(2), 439–456. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X12000264

Geer, J. G. (2010). In defense of negativity: Attack ads in presidential campaigns. Studies in communication, media, and public opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=319130

Kahn, K. F., & Kenney, P. J. (1999). Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize or Suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship between Negativity and Participation. American Political Science Review, 93(4), 877–889. https://doi.org/10.2307/2586118

Kaid, L. L., & Holtz-Bacha, C. (Eds.) (2006). The SAGE handbook of political advertising. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.

Kanouse, D. E., & Hansen, L. R. (1987). Negativity in evaluations. In E. E. Jones, D. E. Kanouse, H. H. Kelley, R. E. Nisbett, S. Valins, & B. Weiner (Eds.), Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Lau, R. R. (1985). Two explanations for negativity effects in political behavior. American Journal of Political Science. (29), 119–138.

Lau, R. R., & Pomper, G. M. (2004). Negative campaigning: An analysis of U.S. Senate elections. Campaigning American style. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lau, R. R., & Rovner, I. B. (2009). Negative Campaigning. Annual Review of Political Science, 12(1), 285–306. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.071905.101448

Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L., & Rovner, I. B. (2007). The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment. The Journal of Politics, 69(4), 1176–1209. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00618.x

Lee, C., & Benoit, W. L. (2004). A Functional Analysis of Presidential Television Spots: A Comparison of Korean and American Ads. Communication Quarterly, 52(1), 68–79. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463370409370179

Sigelman, L., & Kugler, M. (2003). Why Is Research on the Effects of Negative Campaigning So Inconclusive? Understanding Citizens’ Perceptions of Negativity. The Journal of Politics, 65(1), 142–160. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2508.t01-1-00007

Steffan, D., & Venema, N. (2019). Personalised, De-Ideologised and Negative? A Longitudinal Analysis of Campaign Posters for German Bundestag Elections, 1949–2017. European Journal of Communication, 34(3), 267–285. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323119830052

Surlin, S. H., & Gordon, T. F. (1977). How Values Affect Attitudes Toward Direct Reference Political Advertising. Journalism Quarterly, 54(1), 89–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/107769907705400113

Torres, I. M., Hyman, M. R., & Hamilton, J. (2012). Candidate-Sponsored TV Ads for the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election: A Content Analysis. Journal of Political Marketing, 11(3), 189–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/15377857.2012.703907

Voltmer, K. (2004). Mass media and political communication in new democracies: Routledge.

Published

2021-04-18

How to Cite

Steppat, D., & Castro Herrero, L. (2021). Negative campaigning (Election Campaigning Communication). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis. https://doi.org/10.34778/4g

Issue

Database

(Professional) Communicators & Organisational/Strategic Communication