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Research Note: “Negative” Personalization: Party Leaders and Party Strategy

  • Scott Pruysers (a1) and William Cross (a2)

While the negative campaigning literature has witnessed tremendous growth in recent years, the precise targets of campaign negativity have not been fully explored, as candidates and their parties are largely treated as the same target. Likewise, although scholars are increasingly writing about the personalization of politics, this literature has not considered whether parties can “personalize” their opponents by focusing their messaging and attacks more on individual leaders than the parties they lead. In an attempt to bridge the gap between these two literatures, we develop the concept of negative personalization. Negative personalization, as we define it, is an emphasis on opposing party leaders in campaign communication more so than on the parties that they lead. Exploring recent election campaigns in Canada's largest province, we document the extent to which parties engage in negative personalization and suggest hypotheses for the factors leading to increased negative personalization.


Bien que la littérature sur les campagnes negatives ait enregistré une très forte croissance ces dernières années, les cibles précises d'une campagne négative n'ont pas été étudiées à fond, car les candidats et leurs partis sont largement traités comme constituant la même cible. De même, quoique les chercheurs publient de plus en plus sur la personnalisation de la politique, cette littérature n'a pas examiné si les partis peuvent « personnaliser » leurs opposants en focalisant leurs messages et leurs attaques davantage sur les chefs politiques que sur les partis qu'ils dirigent. Dans une tentative de combler l’écart entre ces deux littératures, nous développons le concept de personnalisation négative. La personnalisation négative, telle que nous la définissons, est un accent mis dans la communication de la campagne davantage sur les chefs du parti opposant que sur les partis qu'ils dirigent. En examinant les campagnes électorales récentes dans la plus grande province du Canada, nous documentons la mesure dans laquelle les partis s'engagent dans une personnalisation négative et suggérons des hypothèses pour rendre compte des facteurs qui contribuent à une personnalisation négative accrue.

Corresponding author
Department of Political Science, University of Calgary. 2500 University Dr NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Email:
Department of Political Science, Carleton University. 1125 Colonel By Drive. Ottawa, Ontario K1S5B6, Email:
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Danielle Caramani . 2006. “Is There a European Electorate and What Does It Look Like? Evidence from Electoral Volatility Measures, 1976–2004.” West European Politics 29: 127.

William Cross and Lisa Young . 2015. “Personalization of Campaigns in an SMP system: The Canadian Case.” Electoral Studies 39: 306315.

John Geer . 2006. In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kasper Hansen and Rasmus Pedersen . 2008. “Negative Campaigning in a Multiparty System.” Scandinavian Political Studies 31: 408–27.

Lynda Kaid . 1997. “Effects of the Television Spots on Images of Dole and Clinton.” American Behavioral Scientist 40: 1085–94.

Yanna Krupnikov . 2011. “When Does Negativity Demobilize? Tracing the Conditional Effect of Negative Campaigning on Voter Turnout.” American Journal of Political Science 55: 796812.

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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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