Negative campaigning consists of criticizing one’s political opponent in an attempt to ‘win’ voters by diminishing the attractiveness of the opponent. The opposite is positive campaigning which consists of acclamation and self-praise aimed at raising one’s own attractiveness to voters. Although these forms of political discourse can be traced back to ancient Greek times, scholarly investigation is relatively recent, and more explicitly directed to negative campaigning than to its positive counterpart. The reasons for this are practical as well as normative. On the practical side, the increasing professionalization of politics and campaigning generated an increased demand for evidence-based recommendations about how to wage campaigns in order to ‘win’ elections. On the normative side are apprehensions about undesirable side-effects of negative campaigning for the quality of representative democracy: citizens exposed to negative campaigning are often said to become more cynical about the responsiveness of public officials and about the electoral process, and that they would, as a result, be less likely to take part in elections. Yet, our knowledge of negative campaigning and its effects is still quite limited. This study has the following four research objectives (a) generate new knowledge about the systemic conditions in which negative campaigning is more or less prevalent, by explicit comparison between multiple countries and political contexts; (b) produce new insights into the effects of negative campaigning; (c) contribute to the further conceptualization and theorizing of negative campaigning by specifying it as a specific case of the more general phenomenon of political attack rhetoric; and (d) contribute to further theorizing by integrating insights from different disciplinary traditions in the study of negative campaigning and attack rhetoric, such as electoral studies, comparative politics, political theory, communication theory and media effect studies.
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