The Americanization of British party advertising? Negativity in party election broadcasts, 1964–2005
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- vanHeerde-Hudson, J. Br Polit (2011) 6: 52. doi:10.1057/bp.2011.2
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This article examines the extent to which British party campaigning has become increasingly negative in tone or ‘Americanized’. Although few have missed the opportunity to lament the negative turn in campaigning, which has been shown to demobilize the electorate, depress turnout, contribute to a poor information environment and increase incivility, there is little empirical evidence to confirm the perceived increased in negativity. This article asks three questions: is there evidence to support the perception that parties are increasingly adopting a strategy of ‘going negative’ in election campaigns; are appeals issue, value or trait oriented; and is there anything positive about negative ads? Drawing on a content analysis of British party election broadcasts (1964–2005), the results show evidence of volatility in negativity, but no absolute increase in the number of negative appeals. Less than half of all appeals are negative, but when parties do ‘go negative’ they do so on issues rather than values or characteristics. Finally, negative appeals are positive in terms of the quality of information they provide; they are more likely to be evidence-based and contain explicit comparisons of parties’ policies than positive appeals. Thus, despite calls for a ‘different kind of politics’, there appear to be under-appreciated positive features of negative campaigning.