Negative campaign advertisements have been depicted by many observers as a scourge on American politics. One facet of the case against negative ads—that such commercials discourage voter turnout—has been studied extensively in the past decade. In contrast, a second criticism—that negative advertisements produce corrosive effects on mass attitudes—has received less attention. This is unfortunate as it would be highly consequential for American political behavior if exposure to negative campaign ads breeds widespread cynicism and antipathy toward politics, disapproval of political institutions and elected officials, and a decline in political efficacy. We examine these charges in the context of the 2002 U.S. midterm elections. Merging data on political ads from the 2002 rendition of the Wisconsin Advertising (WiscAds) Project with individual-level data collected via the 2002 Exercising Citizenship in American Democracy Survey, we devise a thorough and multifaceted test of the case against negative advertising. Our analyses do not provide empirical support for the charges levied against negative campaign ads.
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