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Sigelman and Kugler: Why is research on the effects of negative campaigning so inconclusive

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Sigelman and Kugler. 2003. Why is research on the effects of negative campaigning so inconclusive?. JOP 65: 142-60.


Despite the common wisdom that says negative campaigns matter, previous studies have failed to find consistently significant effects (Lau et al. 1999). Why?


Social scientists do not perceive negativity the way the public does. Social scientists code ads as negative if they focus on the opposing candidate instead of promoting the sponsoring candidate. But citizens don't all perceive the same ads as negative. First, it may take a lot of negative advertising before a significant number of people are even aware of the ads. But more importantly, people might be biased in predictable ways in their evaluation of an ad's negativity.


  1. People do not all agree on a campaign's degree of negativity.
  2. If there were a consensus, it wouldn't match what social scientists perceive as negativity.
  3. Perceptions of a campaign's negativity vary from person to person, depending on factors like efficacy, partisanship, candidate loyalty, length of campaign remaining, political information, and response order.


Using NES data from 1998 gubernatorial campaigns in California, Georgia, and Illinois campaigns (and comparing it with their coding of campaigns as "negative" according to content analysis of newspaper coverage and TV ads), the authors confirm all of their hypotheses.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Sigelman, Lee (author)Kugler, Mark (author)American PoliticsPublic OpinionMedia EffectsElectionsCampaign Advertisements

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