The Journal of Politics

Original Articles

Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect

Ken Goldsteina1 and Paul Freedmana2

a1 University of Wisconsin–Madison

a2 University of Virginia


Recent controversy over campaign advertising has focused on the effects of negative ads on voters. Proponents of the demobilization hypothesis have argued that negative ads turn off voters and shrink the size of the electorate. We argue that negative campaign charges are just as likely to engage potential voters, leading to a stimulation effect when it comes to turnout. Drawing on a new source of ad-tracking data from the 1996 presidential election, combined with the 1996 National Election Study, we generate estimates of the probability that voters were exposed to positive and negative political advertising. With this new, more precise approach, we find unambiguous evidence that exposure to negative campaign ads actually stimulates voter turnout.

(Online publication May 22 2001)

(Received August 31 2001)