The primary research questions of this study center on two largely overlooked areas in negative political advertising: (1) Would the sponsor of the attack ad message be better off with a positive message? (2) When one is targeted by an attack ad, how should the attacked candidate respond? M-Turk subjects (n = 1,380) were used to conduct a multi-stage experimental design to capture the dynamic aspects of how subjects react to the use of attack ads in a hypothetical political campaign. In general, subjects did not respond favorably to attack ads, as these negative political messages caused damage to the image of both the attacker and the attacked. However, it was found that attack ads did cause greater harm to the evaluations of the attacked candidate than to the attacker. Positive ads offered in response to an attack ad helped the attacked candidate recover, whereas negative counter ads, when executed in response to an attack ad, inflicted greater damage to the attacked than the attacker. Suggestions for future research are offered in this highly relevant area of political campaigning.



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