The upcoming U.S. presidential election campaign promises to be the most confrontational and negative one in recent history. The reason for this is simple: the two main candidates, Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D) both have record high unfavorability ratings. In a recent Gallup poll, 31% of respondents had a favorable opinion on Donald Trump while 64% viewed him negatively. According to the same poll, 41% of voters have a favorable view of Hillary Clinton while 54% see her negatively. The public perception about both candidates is already quite established. As a result, it is more difficult to influence the positive numbers compared to the negative ones. For many voters, this will become a race about voting for the lesser evil.
This being said, negative campaigning is as old as campaigning itself. It has long been a very efficient weapon for candidates who have high unfavorable ratings themselves. The rationale goes like this: no matter how much you dislike me, no matter how much you disagree with me on select policies, everything will get worse if the other candidate wins.
In the U.S., there is a two-party system and a culture that is rather confrontational. As a result, negative campaigning is very straight-forward and explicit. In Europe, for example, negative campaigning is more implicit. Attacks are often coming from a third player such as for example the media. In either setting, negative campaigns work best if they present a coherent narrative why someone should not be elected. In that sense, effective negative campaigns hit the same point over and over again.