Attack Politics

Negativity in Presidential Campaigns since 1960

Second Edition, Revised and Updated

Emmett H. Buell Jr. and Lee Sigelman

This second edition of Attack Politics updates Emmett Buell and Lee Sigelman's highly regarded study of negativity in presidential campaigns since 1960 with a substantial new chapter on the 2008 contest between Barack Obama and John McCain. That campaign, the authors contend, proved to be the least negative in the last half century and reinforces their central argument that these campaigns have actually not grown "dirtier" and more negative since the election of JFK.

In this new edition, Buell and Sigelman address the same questions that guided their research in the original book. Who attacked whom? How frequently? On what issues? In what ways? And at what point in the race? They also update their analysis of whether presidential campaigns have gotten more negative since 1960, whether opposing sides addressed the same issues or avoided subjects "owned" by the other side, and whether trailing candidates wage more negative campaigns than leading candidates.

“Political and media junkies will appreciate—and even be surprised by—the who, what, when, and how that Buell and Sigelman present. . . . Cogent research and analysis, plus choice quotes, mean this deserves a place in every political history collection.”

Library Journal

“A tour de force that joins John Geer’s In Defense of Negativity as a ‘must read’ for all scholars studying negative campaigns, but also for students of political communication, democratic deliberation, and campaign strategy more generally.”

—Richard Lau, author of Negative Campaigning: An Analysis of U.S. Senate Campaigns

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The authors expand their analysis well beyond their original research base—17,000 campaign statements extracted from nearly 11,000 news items in the New York Times-focusing on both presidential and vice-presidential nominees as sources and targets of attacks and examining the actions of surrogate campaigners. They also compare their findings with previously published accounts of these campaigns—including firsthand accounts by candidates and their confidants. Each chapter features "echoes from the campaign trail" that reflect the invective exchanged by rival campaigns.

Their new chapter shows that, rather than neatly resembling either of their typology's extremes ("runaways" or "dead heats"), the 2008 race began as a "dead heat" in late summer but began to take on all the characteristics of a "somewhat competitive" affair by the end of September. Campaign discourse that began with an anticipated focus on the Iraq War and other national security issues came to be dominated by concerns about the economic meltdown. As the campaign headed toward the home stretch, anxiety about the economy seemed to eclipse national security, health care, immigration, and other concerns. This shift of emphasis, they argue, doomed whatever chance McCain had of winning.

Like the first edition, this update of Attack Politics systematically analyzes negative campaigning, pinning down much that has previously been speculated on but left unsubstantiated. It offers the best overview yet of modern presidential races and remains must reading for anyone interested in the vagaries of those campaigns.

About the Author

Emmett H. Buell Jr. is Richard G. Lugar Professor of Public Policy Emeritus at Denison University and coeditor of Enduring Controversies in Presidential Nominating Politics. Lee Sigelman is Columbian Professor of Political Science at George Washington University and coeditor of Political Mythology and Popular Fiction and, with Buell, Nominating the President.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series