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Positive Spillovers from Negative Campaigning

Number: 664
Year: 2020
Author(s): Vincenzo Galasso, Tommaso Nannicini, Salvatore Nunnari
Negative advertising is frequent in electoral campaigns, despite its ambiguous effectiveness: negativity may reduce voters' evaluation of the targeted politician but have a backlash effect for the attacker. We study the effect of negative advertising in electoral races with more than two candidates with a large scale field experiment during an electoral campaign for mayor in Italy and a survey experiment in a fictitious mayoral campaign. In our field experiment, we find a strong, positive spillover effect on the third main candidate (neither the target nor the attacker). This effect is confirmed in our survey experiment, which creates a controlled environment with no ideological components nor strategic voting. The negative ad has no impact on the targeted incumbent, has a sizable backlash effect on the attacker, and largely benefits the idle candidate. The attacker is perceived as less cooperative, less likely to lead a successful government, and more ideologically extreme.

Keywords: Electoral Campaign, Political Advertisement, Randomized Controlled Trial, Field Experiment, Survey Experiment
JEL codes: D72, C90, M37