Date of Award

Spring 1992

Document Type



Political Science & International Relations

First Advisor

Dennis Wiedmann

Second Advisor

Erik Pratt

Third Advisor

Brent Northup


The primary medium for political communication seems to be television. Doris Graber states in Mass Media and American Politics that:"The average recent American high school graduate has spent more time in front of a television set than in school..."! The extrapolation that can be made lies within the fact that political ads are often inter-mixed with regular programming. To this extent, Graber's analysis seems to indicate that television is an important conveyance mechanism for a host of messages, political and otherwise.

The purpose of this thesis is to discuss the potential impact that negative political advertising has on the individual voter. In the first chapter, I will examine several models of communication. The objective is to formulate an explanation for the potential influence of non-positive political commercial; a criteria of sorts. The goal of this discussion is to preview how the communications process works.

In Chapter Two, I will define negative political advertising. In addition the goals of this advertising will be clarified. The definition will provide the reader with a solid foundation on which to base further analysis of the topic. Included will be a case study of a negative political advertisement, specifically, the Willie Horton commercial of 1988. An analysis, in the light of these models will follow. This will establish the potential influence of negative political advertising on the individual voter. Once this has been established, an examination of the political ramifications will ensue.

Based on the information gained, predictions for the future of negative advertising will be offered. Included within Chapter Three will be suggestions for reform. The final objective of this examination is to learn the effects of negative advertising. Clearly, given its prominence in political campaigns, non-positive advertising deserves to be discussed. Hopefully, the reader will gain new insights into how negative communication can influence decision making. Related to this is the hope for increasing awareness as to the goals of these types of commercials.

Perhaps if the individual is able to recognize negative advertising as being patently negative, a greater need will arise; the need to seek information about political candidates and their positions.