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Sharp Elbows on the Airwaves: Do Primary “Reforms” Provoke Negative Ads?

Christopher C. Hull. "Sharp Elbows on the Airwaves: Do Primary “Reforms” Provoke Negative Ads?." Annual Meeting. Chicago, Ill.: Midwest Political Science Association , 2006.

Are presidential primary process “reforms” provoking more negative campaigning? Specifically, have parties’ decisions since the early 1970s that have favored primaries over caucuses increased the likelihood of attack ads on television by turning the nomination process into a series of mini-general elections? As a first step to help answer this question, this preliminary paper explores a 53,000+-case database of television advertisements from the 2000 presidential nomination process. It builds two statistical models to estimate the impact of nomination contest type (primaries vs. caucuses) on ad negativity. It finds that in 2000, ads run in presidential primaries were three times as likely to be attack ads as those run in caucuses, a difference that was highly statistically significant in both models. The results hint that primary process reforms may be playing a role in provoking more negative campaigning in the presidential nomination process.

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