The topic of negative advertising in political campaigns has been especially timely in recent years, given the increased presence of negative ads with each successive U.S. election cycle. Using data sets containing detailed information from both voter surveys and automated ad monitoring, we model choices made by voters and campaigns in House, Senate, and Presidential elections in 2000. Our model framework contains both a voter turnout and choice (demand) model and a political candidate campaign advertising (supply) model. From our estimation results, we find negative ads run by a given candidate increase voter turnout, and attract more votes for the candidate. In addition to this “main ” effect, we also show that voter sensitivity to negative ad amounts is in turn dependent on various election-specific factors (incumbency status, balance of character-focused negative ads) and individual-specific factors (voter demographics, goodwill, interest, media exposure, and partisanship). We also model the campaign’s choice of ad orientation (negative or positive) for each individual ad, and how it is related to competition, demographics, timing, and vote responsiveness to various ad types.
This article examines a fundamental aspect of democracy: the relationship between the policy positions of candidates and the choices of voters. Researchers have suggested three criteria—–proximity, direction, and discounting—–by which voters might judge candidates ’ policy positions. More than 50 peer-reviewed articles, employing data from more than 20 countries, have attempted to adjudicate among these theories. We explain why existing data and methods are insufficient to estimate the prevalence of these criteria in the electorate. We then formally derive an exhaustive set of critical tests: situations in which the criteria predict different vote choices. Finally, through survey experiments concerning health care policy, we administer the tests to a nationally representative sample. We find that proximity voting is about twice as common as discounting and four times as common as directional voting. Furthermore, discounting is most prevalent among ideological centrists and nonpartisans, who make sophisticated judgments that help align policy with their preferences. These findings demonstrate the promise of combining formal theory and experiments to answer previously intractable questions about democracy. “A key characteristic of democracy, ” Dahl (1971, 1) noted, is the “responsiveness of