Negative campaigning, fundraising, and voter turnout: A field experiment
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2015 Elsevier B.V. Why do candidates risk alienating voters by engaging in negative campaigning? One answer may lie in the large empirical literature indicating that negative messages are more effective than positive messages in getting individuals to do many things, including voting and purchasing goods. Few contributions to this literature, however, gather data from a field environment with messages whose tone has been validated. We conduct field experiments in two elections for local office which test the effect of confirmed negative and positive letters sent to candidates' partisans on two measurable activities: donating to the candidate and turning out to vote. We find that message tone increases partisan support in ways that may help explain the persistence of negative campaigning. Negative messages are no better than positive messages at earning the candidates donations, but negative messages yield significantly higher rates of voter turnout among the candidates' partisans relative to positive messages. Positive messages, however, are not neutral relative to no message.