26.05.2020

Negatively Affecting Voters’ Issue Considerations. An Experimental Study of Parties’ Attack Communication

Lefevere, J., Bech Seeberg, H. & Walgrave, S. (2020). Negatively Affecting Voters’ Issue Considerations. An Experimental Study of Parties’ Attack Communication. Political Communication 37:6, 812-831, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2020.1760407

This paper investigates whether parties’ issue attacks can successfully discredit their rivals’ issue evaluations. Existing research demonstrates how a party can influence voters’ perceptions of itself on a single dimension of issue competition, but research showing the impact of negative campaigning on parties’ issue evaluations remains limited. Based on novel experimental evidence, we test the impact of three different types of issue attacks – attacking the rival’s position, competence, or commitment on the issue – on voters’ evaluations of the rival party on three issue dimensions, namely position, competence, and commitment. The findings indicate that commitment and position attacks depress the rival party’s issue evaluations on that dimension, whereas competence attacks do not. Moreover, positional attacks lower position evaluations and competence evaluations but increase commitment evaluations. Finally, the effectiveness of attacks varies between issues, and party preference moderates the effects of issue attacks.