The Effect of Negative Campaign Advertising on Vote Choice: The Mediating Influence of Gender


  • *Direct correspondence to James D. King, Department of Political Science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071-3197 〈〉. The first-named author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The authors wish to thank Kim Kahn, Paul Freedman, Rich Engstrom, Steve Van Winkle, and the reviewers for SSQ for their many helpful comments. The political advertisements used for this study were made available by the Political Communication Center at the University of Oklahoma. None of these individuals or the Political Communications Center bears any responsibility for the conduct or conclusions of this study.


Objective. Some studies of negative campaign advertising's impact argue that a backlash or “boomerang effect” exists. However, the appropriate conceptualization of a boomerang effect might not be an immediate backlash against the sponsor but a delayed response that comes after repeated exposure to negative campaign advertisements.

Method. We conducted an experiment using a variation of the pretest-posttest control group design in which treatment groups were exposed to varying numbers of negative campaign advertisements.

Results. There is a parabolic effect of repeated exposure to negative advertisements that is gender specific. Among women, the sponsor initially benefits from an enhanced image but suffers a decline in image when the voters become overexposed to negative advertisements.

Conclusion. A reconceptualization of the “boomerang effect” of negative campaign advertising is in order.