Prior research suggests that campaigns become more negative when the election environment becomes more competitive. Much of this research suffers from data and design limitations. I replicate and extend prior analyses using a much larger number of cases. Using advertising data drawn from 374 U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns contested from 2000 through 2018, I find evidence that electoral competition encourages candidates to engage in more negative advertising campaigns and that incumbency status conditions these effects. Incumbents of both parties use more negative messaging strategies as competition increases. The effects of competition among challengers and open seat candidates is mixed. These results add to what we know about campaign advertising behavior and suggest that researchers should take care to avoid ignoring important contextual factors that underlie candidates’ strategic choices.
- campaign messaging
- negative advertising