Reprehensible, Laughable: The Role of Contempt in Negative Campaigning

Ira J. Roseman, Kyle Mattes, David P. Redlawsk, Steven Katz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Negativity is common in political rhetoric and advertising, but its effects are variable. One important moderator may be the specific emotions communicated by the messages and potentially in recipients. Contempt may be the emotion often conveyed by uncivil ads, which have attracted considerable interest, particularly in light of increased partisan polarization. Using data from web-based surveys in New Jersey and Iowa, we examine the role contempt played in two U.S. Senate races in 2014. We find respondents perceived contempt—more than anxiety or anger—in four televised negative campaign ads and in candidates’ statements about opponents. Moreover, respondents’ feelings of contempt toward candidates, though less intense than feelings of anger, were of equal or greater significance than anger or anxiety in predicting voting intentions regarding three of the four Senate candidates across the two elections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-77
Number of pages34
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • contempt
  • elections
  • emotions
  • negative campaign
  • voting behavior

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