Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 999–1020 | Cite as

Negative Campaigning in the Social Media Age: Attack Advertising on Facebook

  • Zachary J. Auter
  • Jeffrey A. Fine
Original Paper


Recent studies examine politicians’ decisions to use social media, as well as the content of the messages that these political actors disseminate on social media platforms. We contribute to this literature by examining how race competitiveness and a candidate’s position in the race relative to her opponent affect their decisions to issue attacks. Through content analysis of nearly 15,000 Facebook posts for tone (positive or negative), we find that while competitive races encourage both candidates to issue more negative posts, candidates in less competitive races embrace attack messages with more or less frequency depending on whether they trail or lead their opponent. We find that social media negativity is much more likely to be a desperation strategy employed by underdog candidates in less competitive races. We also run separate models examining the factors that drive policy and personal attacks. While underdog candidates are more likely to engage in issue attacks, candidates in competitive races are significantly more likely to use Facebook to make personal attacks.


Elections Campaigns Negativity Social Media 



We wish to thank Kristin Bender for her excellent research assistance. We also would like to thank Laura Olson, Chris Bonneau, Kris Kanthak, Mac Avery, the editor, and the anonymous reviewers at Political Behavior for their helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Clemson UniversityClemsonUSA

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