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Tone and Information in Negative Campaign Advertising

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Principal Investigator(s):

Deborah Jordan Brooks
Dartmouth College
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John Geer
Vanderbilt University
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Sample size: 1900
Field period: 08/20/2004 - 08/26/2004



Voters, do not respond to the tone of a message in a monolithic fashion. Rather, they evaluate it and respond to it on the basis of whether it contains useful information for their decisions. By developing this new story, we will clarify and advance our understanding of the public's reactions to conflict-oriented messages that will address current debates in political science, social psychology and communications.


H1: To the extent that negative statements engender unfavorable reactions,2 they will be especially unfavorable to the uncivil negative statements (rather than civil ones). This relationship, however, will be mitigated by specificity of attack (see below).

H2: Specific negative statements will produce more favorable reactions than vague negative statements, and will produce greater interest in the political system overall.

H3: Vague positive statements will have fewer favorable effects for voters as compared to both specific positive and specific negative statements.

H4: Specific, uncivil attacks will be more informative then vague, civil attacks, and will have fewer unfavorable effects on voters.

H5: Issue-based, specific, negative messages will have more favorable effects than will personal, vague, positive messages.

Experimental Manipulation:

Each of the 12 experimental treatments consists of exposure to three campaign statements by a fictitious congressional candidate (the control group will not be exposed to any experimental treatment). Statements will be manipulated in a way that captures the dimension being tested.

Key Dependent Variables:

Immediately following the experimental treatment, respondents will be asked an initial set of questions (3 in total) specifically designed to measure the electorate's reaction to the candidate's statements. The second set of questions will focus on politics and campaigns overall, rather than on the statements in particular. A final open-ended inquiry will ask respondents to recall anything they can about the statements they read earlier.


To be determined.


Brooks, D. J. and J. G. Geer. 2007. Beyond Negativity: The Effects of Incivility on the Electorate. American Journal of Political Science. 51: 1–16. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00233.x

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