The Resilient Voter: Moving Toward Closure in the Debate over Negative Campaigning and Turnout


Deborah Jordan Brooks is assistant professor of government, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755.


The effect of negative campaigning on voter turnout has been a major focus of research in recent years. In a path-breaking analysis, Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar found that negative campaigning by Senate candidates significantly depresses turnout. Subsequent studies that emerged to challenge their analysis reached more optimistic findings. Determining who is right is difficult to establish because the methodology of these later studies differs so dramatically from the original study and because a strong theoretical case can be made for each type of finding. Through a careful examination and improvement of Ansolabehere and Iyengar’s aggregate analysis of Senate campaigns, this article shows that their initial conclusions regarding the demobilizing effect of campaign attacks were premature. Even using Ansolabehere and Iyengar’s own data, it appears that citizens are resilient to the onslaught of negative campaigning. This paper shows that the findings in the literature are not as contradictory as they initially appear, thereby moving it toward closure on this topic and clearing the way for a series of new research questions.