The contemporary political world has a darker side. While some politicians run positive, substantial, informed and respectful political campaigns, others engage in "campaign hostility" - they attack their opponents instead of promoting their own policies or agendas, act in an uncivil fashion that disrupts the agreed-upon social norms and showcase intolerant attitudes or behaviors. In doing so, they not only cross normative boundaries of protocol and politeness, but one could argue also of democratic behavior - with potentially nefarious consequences in terms of governance, public mood, and democratic stability. Whilst some schoalrs point to the existence of positive effects of negativity - e.g., in terms of it being able to convey useful information to voters, promote issue knowledge, and stimulate interest - many suggest that negativity has the potential of depressing turnout, fosters apathy and a “gloomier public mood” in a “spiral of cynicism”.
Yet, a systematic and comparative understanding of the dynamics of campaign hostility remains elusive, especially using a comprehensive framework that investigates not only negativity, but also incivility and intolerance. To what extent do politicians of different cuts engage in campaign hostility, and under which conditions? What are the electoral consequences? What is the role of proximate concepts such as populism within the dynamics of campaign hostility today? And who, among voters, is more open to hostile campaigning? The goal of this PhD project is to investigate these dynamics, adopting a comparative approach and a comprehensive theoretical framework.
The project investigates the supply, demand, causes, and consequences of three types of “campaign hostility”: 1) competing parties’ hostility against opponents (attack politics); 2) hostility against social norms (incivility); and 3) hostility against political minorities (intolerance). The first study concerns a large-scale comparison, making use of existing data and investigates the consequences of campaign hostility on electoral results. The second study investigates the drivers of campaign hostility in recent elections. The third study investigates the demand for campaign hostility, and assesses the moderating role of individual differences in experimental exposure to campaign hostility.