Politics & Gender

Research Article

A Negativity Gap? Voter Gender, Attack Politics, and Participation in American Elections

Deborah Jordan Brooksa1

a1 Dartmouth College


The effect of negative campaigning on voter turnout has been a major focus of research in recent years. The general finding from this large literature is that negative campaigning does not depress voter turnout overall; however, it may still be that certain portions of the electorate are differentially mobilized or demobilized by negativity. In particular, scholars have neglected to examine whether men and women react differently to campaign attacks. This article begins by showing that evidence drawn from a variety of relevant fields outside of political science point toward the general expectation that men will be mobilized by negativity to a greater degree than women. Associated hypotheses are then tested using data from both real campaigns and experiments. In each analysis, the evidence supports the hypothesis that a “negativity gap” exists. Specifically, men are disproportionately mobilized by the most negative campaign messages as compared to women. Partisanship is also found to interact significantly with gender and message tone to affect the likelihood of voting. These results highlight the importance of studying subgroup differences when establishing the effects of campaign tone on the public.

Deborah Jordan Brooks is Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College. Prior to that, she was a Senior Research Director at the Gallup Organization. She received her Ph.D. with Distinction from Yale University, where her dissertation received the Carl Albert Award the best doctoral dissertation in legislative studies. She has published articles in The American Journal of Political Science and The Journal of Politics.


I would like to thank Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS) for funding the experimental portion of this project. The Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College provided supplementary funding for the experiment as well. I would also like to thank Joe Bafumi, Eric Bucy, Diana Bystrom, Alan Gerber, John Hibbing, Diana Mutz, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Nicholas Winter, the anonymous TESS proposal reviewers, and the anonymous Politics & Gender reviewers for very helpful comments on this work. In addition to comments on this paper, John Geer's help on the design of the experiment is very much appreciated. Daniel Mahoney has my thanks for research assistance on this project.