Losing in the Polls, Time Pressure, and the Decision to Go Negative in Referendum Campaigns

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Losing in the Polls, Time Pressure, and the Decision to Go Negative in Referendum Campaigns


  • Alessandro Nai Amsterdam School of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Ferran Martínez i Coma Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Australia


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Abstract:  Why do parties and candidates decide to go negative? Research usually starts from the assumption that this decision is strategic, and within this framework two elements stand out: the prospect of electoral failure increases the use of negative campaigning, and so does time pressure (little reaming time to convince voters before election day). In this article, we contribute to this framework by testing two new expectations: (i) political actors are more likely to go negative when they face unfavourable competitive standings and voting day is near; and (ii) they are less likely to go negative when they faced a substantive degradation in their competitive standing over the course of the campaign. We test these expectations on a rich database of newspaper ads about national referenda in Switzerland and provide preliminary empirical evidence consistent with those expectations. The results have important implications for existing research on the strategic underpinnings of campaigning and political communication.

Keywords:  anxiety; advertisement timing; competitive standing; direct democracy; polls; strategic behaviour; Switzerland; negative campaigning

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v7i2.1940


© Alessandro Nai, Ferran Martínez i Coma. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.