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He Said, She Said: The Impact of Candidate Gender in Negative Campaigns

April 2016

Stephen C. Craig, Paulina S. Rippere


Traditional wisdom stated that female candidates should not negatively attack their political opponents. This is because of a fear that it could create backlash, due to the societal perception that women are more sensitive and should not be assertive. However, this study found that women do not actually suffer significantly more for going negative than men do (though, attacks made by women are slightly less effective than those made by men). When it comes to responses to attacks against themselves, this study found that denial worked best for men and justification worked best for women.

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Policy Implications

“Going negative” can be an effective political tool. While women are often discouraged from pursuing this path, this evidence states that it is nearly as effective for them as for men. Therefore, women candidates should not fear any sort of major backlash for attacking their opponents. Additionally, candidates and consultants should be aware that men and women should respond differently to attacks. Denying any wrongdoing does not work well for women. They are best to apologize while downplaying (justifying) the negative impacts of their actions.

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