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Negativity in Democratic Politics


  • 13 b/w illus. 33 tables
  • Page extent: 184 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.46 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 320.01/9
  • Dewey version: 23
  • LC Classification: JA75.7 .S675 2014
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Political culture
    • Political participation
    • Political psychology
    • Political sociology
    • SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General.--bisacsh

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9781107063297)

This book explores the political implications of the human tendency to prioritize negative information over positive information. Drawing on literatures in political science, psychology, economics, communications, biology, and physiology, this book argues that 'negativity biases' should be evident across a wide range of political behaviors. These biases are then demonstrated through a diverse and cross-disciplinary set of analyses, for instance: in citizens' ratings of presidents and prime ministers; in aggregate-level reactions to economic news, across 17 countries; in the relationship between covers and newsmagazine sales; and in individuals' physiological reactions to network news content. The pervasiveness of negativity biases extends, this book suggests, to the functioning of political institutions - institutions that have been designed to prioritize negative information in the same way as the human brain.

• Focuses on political communications, political behavior and political institutions, but it draws on vast literatures in psychology, economics, communications, anthropology, physiology and evolutionary biology • Offers broad analyses, including work with individual-level survey data, with aggregate-level macroeconomics and opinion trends, with large bodies of automated content-analytic data on media tone, and with physiological lab experiments • Links analysis in political behavior and psychology with the classic (and current) literature on political-institutional design


1. On negativity; 2. Negativity in politics; 3. (Political) impression formation; 4. Economic sentiment and government approval; 5. Media content; 6. Reactions to news content.


'Soroka has produced a masterly analysis of the impact of negativity, beginning with psychology, microeconomics and neuroscience, and then focusing on the field of politics. His tour de force ranges from evaluations of, and voting for, individual politicians, to government approval, media and news impact, and political institutions. In fascinating detail he then shows that all is not lost and draws out some positive consequences of this negativity bias, which may well be an effective way to manage democratic governance.' Miles Hewstone, University of Oxford

'This surprisingly optimistic take on the role of negativity in the political process provides a clear and engaging analysis of how and why people interpret and use negative information in unique, important, and often useful ways. Analyzing a wide array of empirical evidence from presidential assessments to media content across seventeen countries, Stuart Soroka provides a truly comprehensive portrait of negativity within the political domain. In so doing, he situates the extensive psychological and biological literature on negativity within a political context, providing a novel and convincing interpretation for the self-containing role it plays in supporting democratic institutions.' Rose McDermott, Brown University

'I enjoyed reading Negativity in Democratic Politics not only because of its subject matter but also because it triggered many new research questions and ideas in my mind. So, it will trigger the reader's creative thinking. Moreover, it would be a great addition to graduate syllabi in political behavior, political psychology, and communications illustrating convincingly how negativity operates in different domains of political life. Overall, I felt that reading the book is time well spent, and I plan to consult it whenever I should write on an overarching issue from multiple angles.' Elif Erisen, Journal of Politics

'Negativity in American media and politics, as Riker's account of the debate to ratify the American Constitution demonstrates, long precedes Watergate and Cable TV. Soroka's convincing alternative to structural and cultural explanations of negativity suggests that is exactly as it should be.' Jonathan Sullivan, Taiwan Journal of Democracy

'The thesis of Soroka's book is well supported with a variety of data: negativity bias exists in politics, both in how individuals react to negative information and in how news organizations cover politics … Soroka does a commendable job illustrating that negativity bias exists in politics, both in how individuals react to negative information and in how news organizations cover politics.' Ashley Muddiman, Political Communication

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