Keeping it Professional: The Influence of Political Consultants on Candidate Attitudes toward Negative Campaigning



Conventional wisdom suggests that political consultants encourage candidates to “go negative” and to accept the ethos of winning election at any cost. However, recent studies indicate that some campaign professionals draw ethical distinctions between different forms of negative campaigning. While there is a growing literature on campaign consultants, less is known about their influence on those running for political office. Using a nationwide survey of candidates, we find that those who wage professional campaigns are more likely than those who wage amateur campaigns to consider it acceptable to use negative campaign tactics and to find it appropriate to raise issues against an opponent concerning legal infractions. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, we find that candidates' acceptance of personalized attacks, which critics judge to be most harmful to democracy, are not attributable to consultants, but rather to other factors and incentives inherent in the U.S. electoral system.