Negative Political Advertisements: A Primer from the Academic Literature with an Ethical Marketing Commentary

Document Type

Contribution to Book



Publication Date



Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

Source Publication

Persuasion Ethics Today

Source ISSN



You've no doubt seen many ads that attack a candidate for his or her character or actions. Such ads are often very dark, loaded with innuendo, and unfairly and inaccurately make claims and charges. These are negative political advertisements (NPAs), and they are a growing phenomenon in U. S. elections at almost every level. Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014) were Supreme Court rulings that, for the first time, allowed corporations and wealthy donors to make almost unlimited and often anonymous contributions to candidates. The court ruled that corporations and unions should be seen as "persons" entitled to First Amendment rights of free speech and that money could be considered a form of express ion. This decision brought millions of additional dollars to campaigns, much of it funding NPAs. This chapter explores the potential consequences of NPAs, including eroding trust in government, the possibility of suppressing voter turnout, discouraging political discussions among citizens, preventing qualified candidates from entering politics, and giving corporations unprecedented power to influence elections. While political speech is and should be unfettered, political marketers should not only do what is permissible under the law, they should apply ethical standards to their work with campaigns.


"Negative Political Advertisements: A Primer from the Academic Literature with an Ethical Marketing Commentary" Persuasion Ethics Today, edited by Margaret Duffy, Esther Thorson. New York ; Abingdon : Routledge, 2016: 115-134. © 2016 Routledge.