, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 353-377

Negativity in political perception

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Abstract

The tendency for negative information to have more weight than equally extreme or equally likely positive information appears in a variety of cognitive processing tasks, but has rarely been documented empirically in politics. This paper provides evidence for two types of negativity effects in electoral behavior: negativity in the formation of impressions (of Humphrey and Nixon in 1968, of McGovern and Nixon in 1972, and of Carter and Reagan in 1980), and negativity as a consequence of impressions (in the 1974 and 1978 congressional elections). Both post hoc rationalization and the nonequivalence of the positive and negative information were examined and ruled out as artifactual explanations for these results. Discussion centered around two possible explanations for negativity, a cost-orientation hypothesis (which holds that people are more strongly motivated to avoid costs than to approach gains) and a figure-ground hypothesis (which holds that negative information stands out against a general positive background).