Michael Basil Caroline Schooler Byron Reeves Stanford University
Political candidates attach increasing importance to negative television advertising. In recent campaigns, the number of negative ads has increased dramatically ( Merritt, 1984). During the 1988 presidential campaign, the popular press asserted that negative political advertising had reached an all-time high ( McLeod, 1989; Shapiro & White, 1988; Stengel, 1988; Taylor & Broder, 1988). The press also felt that Dukakis' failure to respond to Bush's attacks in the 1988 presidential campaign affected the election ( Beatty, 1988; Colford, 1988). That is, negative ads appeared to tip the balance in the election.
The increase in negative ads is partially attributable to proprietary research that shows negative messages have powerful effects ( Sabato, 1981). Candidates hope that attacking ads will lead voters to dislike or fear opponents, and consequently, negative ads are seen as more damaging to the attacked candidate than the attacker ( Kaid & Boydston, 1987). This may be a good political strategy because feelings about candidates have been shown to be important determinants of voting decisions ( Abelson, Kinder, Peters, & Fiske, 1982; Brody & Page, 1973; Foti & Lord, 1982; Lau, 1986; Markus & Converse, 1979).
An important factor in political advertising is the context or sequencing of advertisements. Two important decisions that political strategists face are whether to initiate attacks, and whether to respond to attacks from other candidates. Another context effect is whether running a collection of negative ads provides a cumulative advantage or a backlash against the candidate who sponsors them.