Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-x24gv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-21T04:46:49.128Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

A Negativity Gap? Voter Gender, Attack Politics, and Participation in American Elections

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 September 2010

Deborah Jordan Brooks
Dartmouth College


The effect of negative campaigning on voter turnout has been a major focus of research in recent years. The general finding from this large literature is that negative campaigning does not depress voter turnout overall; however, it may still be that certain portions of the electorate are differentially mobilized or demobilized by negativity. In particular, scholars have neglected to examine whether men and women react differently to campaign attacks. This article begins by showing that evidence drawn from a variety of relevant fields outside of political science point toward the general expectation that men will be mobilized by negativity to a greater degree than women. Associated hypotheses are then tested using data from both real campaigns and experiments. In each analysis, the evidence supports the hypothesis that a “negativity gap” exists. Specifically, men are disproportionately mobilized by the most negative campaign messages as compared to women. Partisanship is also found to interact significantly with gender and message tone to affect the likelihood of voting. These results highlight the importance of studying subgroup differences when establishing the effects of campaign tone on the public.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Iyengar, Shanto. 1995. Going Negative: How Political Advertisements Shrink and Polarize the Electorate. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
Ansolabehere, Stephen, et al. 1994. “Does Attack Advertising Demobilize the Electorate?American Political Science Review 88: 829–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Archer, J. 2004. “Sex Differences in Aggression in Real-World Settings: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Review of General Psychology 8 (4): 291322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Atkin, C., Greenberg, B., et al. 1979. “Selective Exposure to Televised Violence.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Information (HeinOnline) 23 (1): 513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bjorkqvist, K., Lagerspetz, K. M. J., et al. 1992. “Do Girls Manipulate and Boys Fight? Developmental Trends in Regard to Direct and Indirect Aggression.” Aggressive Behavior 18 (2): 117–27.3.0.CO;2-3>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brooks, Deborah Jordan, and Geer, John. 2007. “Beyond Negativity: The Effects of Incivility on the Electorate.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (1): 117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cantor, J., and Nathanson, A. I.. 1997. “Predictors Of Children's Interest in Violent Television Programs.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 41 (2): 155–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carli, L. L., and Bukatko, D.. 2000. “Gender, Communication, and Social Influence: A Developmental Perspective.” In The Developmental Social Psychology of Gender, ed. Eckes, T. and Trautner, H. M.. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 295333.Google Scholar
Clinton, Joshua, and Lapinski, John. 2004. “Targeted Advertising and Voter Turnout: An Experimental Study of the 2000 Presidential Election.” Journal of Politics 66: 6996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crick, N. R., Bigbee, M. A., et al. 1996. “Gender Differences in Children's Normative Beliefs about Aggression: How Do I Hurt Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.” Child Development 67 (3): 1003–14.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Eagly, A. H., and Steffen, V. J.. 1986. “Gender and Aggressive Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Social Psychological Literature.” Psychological Bulletin 100 (3): 309–30.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Finkel, Steven E., and Geer, John. 1998. “A Spot Check: Casting Doubt on the Demobilizing Effect of Attack Advertising.” American Journal of Political Science 42: 573–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Franz, Michael M., Freedman, Paul B., Goldstein, Kenneth M., and Ridout, Travis N.. 2008. Campaign Advertising and American Democracy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Fridkin, Kim L., and Kenney, Patrick J.. 2008. “The Dimensions of Negative Messages.” American Politics Research 36: 694723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fridkin, Kim L., Kenney, Patrick J., and Woodall, Gina Serignese. 2009. “Bad for Men, Better for Women: The Impact of Stereotypes During Negative Campaigns.” Political Behavior 31: 5377.Google Scholar
Geer, John G. 2006. In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldstein, Ken, and Freedman, Paul. 2002. “Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect.” Journal of Politics 64: 721–40.Google Scholar
Gordon, A., Shafie, D. M., and Crigler, A. N.. 2003. “Is Negative Advertising Effective for Female Candidates? An Experiment in Voters' Uses Of Gender Stereotypes.” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 8: 3553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hitchon, Jacqueline C., Chang, Chingching, and Harris, Rhonda. 1997. “Should Women Emote? Perceptual Bias and Opinion Change in Response to Political Ads for Candidates of Different Genders.” Political Communication 14 (1): 4970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hoffner, C., and Levine, K. J.. 2005. “Enjoyment of Mediated Fright and Violence: A Meta-Analysis.” Media Psychology 7 (2): 207–37.Google Scholar
Holmes, J. 1995. Women, Men, and Politeness. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
Jackson, Robert A. 2002. “Gubernatorial and Senatorial Campaign Mobilization of Voters.” Political Research Quarterly 55(4): 825–44.Google Scholar
Kahn, Kim Fridkin, and Kenney, Patrick J.. 1999. “Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize or Suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship between Negativity and Participation.” American Political Science Review 93: 877–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kahn, Kim Fridkin, and Kenney, Patrick J.. 2004. No Holds Barred: Negativity in U.S. Senate Campaigns. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
Kaufmann, Karen M. 2006. “The Gender Gap.” PS 39 (2): 447–53.Google Scholar
King, James D., and McConnell, Jason B.. 2003. “The Effect of Negative Campaign Advertising on Vote Choice: The Mediating Influence of Gender.” Social Science Quarterly 84 (4): 843–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Knight, G. P., Guthrie, I. K., et al. 2002. “Emotional Arousal and Gender Differences in Aggression: A Meta-analysis.” Aggressive Behavior 28: 366–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koukounas, E., and McCabe, M.. 2001. “Emotional Responses to Filmed Violence and the EyeBlink Startle Response.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 16 (5): 476–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lagerspetz, K. M. J., Bjorkqvist, K., et al. 1988. “Is Indirect Aggression Typical of Females? Gender Differences in Aggressiveness in 11 To 12 Year Old Children.” Aggressive Behavior 14 (6): 403–14.3.0.CO;2-D>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lau, Richard R., and Pomper, Gerald M.. 2001. “Effects of Negative Campaigning on Turnout in U.S. Senate Elections, 1988–1998.” Journal of Politics 63 (3): 804–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lau, Richard R., and Pomper, Gerald M.. 2004. “Negative Campaigning: An Analysis of U.S. Senate Elections.” Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L., et al. 2007. “The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment.” Journal of Politics 69 (4): 11761209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mills, S. 2003. Gender and Politeness. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Min, Y. 2004. “News Coverage of Negative Political Campaigns: An Experiment of Negative Campaign Effects on Turnout and Candidate Preference.” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 9: 95111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mundorf, N., Weaver, J., et al. 1989. “Effects of Gender Roles and Self Perceptions on Affective Reactions to Horror Films.” Sex Roles 20 (11/12): 655–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mutz, Diana C., and Reeves, Byron. 2005. “The New Videomalaise: Effects of Televised Incivility on Political Trust.” American Political Science Review 99: 115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schienle, A., Schafer, A., et al. 2005. “Gender Differences in the Processing of Disgust and Fear Inducing Pictures: An fMRI Study.” Neuroreport 16 (3): 277–80.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Stevens, Daniel, Sullivan, John, Allen, Barbara, and Alger, Dean. 2008. “What's Good for the Goose is Bad for the Gander: Negative Political Advertising, Partisanship, and Turnout.” Journal of Politics 70 (2): 527–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tannen, Deborah. 2001. Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex and Power. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
Thorson, E., Christ, W. G., and Caywood, C.. 1991. “Selling Candidates Like Tubes of Toothpaste: Is the Comparison Apt? In Television and Political Advertising, ed. Biocca, F.. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, I: 145–72.Google Scholar