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The influence of negativity in mass and interpersonal communication during an election campaign: A combination of surveys, web tracking and mobile experience sampling (MAIC)


During election campaigns many of the political messages citizens receive are negative – be it via strategic negative campaigning, media coverage or uncivil online conversations. Many studies in political communication and psychology have already focused on the effects of negativity on citizens’ reactions, e.g., attention and emotions, evaluation of politicians, or voting behavior. Most of these studies, however, investigated citizens’ political communication in isolation focusing on just one channel. Studies that focus on effects of negative information received from mass media as well as interpersonal communication environments online and offline (MIC), are to the best of our knowledge non-existent – despite the obvious interactions in terms of processes and effects.

In this project, we aim to comprehensively analyze the effects of negativity in MIC during election campaigns to make a fourfold contribution to the state of research: First, we examine the dynamic exposure of citizens to negative political communication in various communication environments during an election campaign. Thereby, investigating the different communication types in one research design also allows us to analyze the reciprocal relations between mediated and interpersonal communication online and offline. Second, we analyze the short-term effects of negative contents on attentional and emotional processing, and third, longer-term effects on political outcomes. By taking a longitudinal perspective, we conceptualize and measure exposure to and effects of negativity during campaigns as dynamic processes. Fourth, we methodologically contribute to the state of research by using an innovative methodology that allows us to observe the aforementioned processes in a real-world setting: we combine approaches of offline and online tracking to continuously observe citizens’ engagement in political communication, surveys to assess their short-term and long-term reactions, and automated content analysis to link participants’ reactions to concrete communication contents. The study will be conducted during the hot phase of the German federal election campaign in September 2021.


2021-07-01 – 2024-11-14


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft