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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 16, 2022

Do Elite Appeals to Negative Partisanship Stimulate Citizen Engagement?

Mia Costa, Hannah K. Frater, Melissa Barales-Lopez, Naina Bhalla, John J. Cho, Katherine E. Christie, Chris Jun, Thomas C. Paul and Emma M. Wagner
From the journal The Forum


Scholars have extensively studied whether campaign attack advertisements –messages that attack individual candidates– mobilize or demobilize voters with mixed results. We argue that group-oriented partisan affect in campaigns –messages about the parties in general– is just as important given increasing trends of affective polarization. We use two survey experiments, one right before the 2020 presidential election and the other before the subsequent Georgia Senate runoff election, to examine the effects of partisan rhetoric on several measures of civic engagement. In the presidential election, neither positive partisan, negative partisan, nor personal apartisan appeals had a statistically significant effect on voters’ enthusiasm, likelihood to volunteer, or likelihood to seek out more information about engaging in the election. In the second study, negative partisan appeals led registered voters in Georgia to report much higher levels of enthusiasm about their preferred candidate, but this result was driven by Republicans only. The findings contribute new insights about electoral context and asymmetric affective polarization to the literature documenting the mobilizing effects of negativity in campaigns.

Corresponding author: Mia Costa, Assistant Professor of Government, Dartmouth College, Silsby Hall, Hanover, NH 03755, USA, E-mail:


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Published Online: 2022-06-16

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