Positive Spillovers from Negative Campaigning

American Journal of Political Science - forthcoming

joint with Vincenzo Galasso and 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.