Negative news and the sleeper effect of distrust

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The role of the media in the creation of distrust is much debated in political communication. Will negative news, for example, relentless attacks on political authorities, result in political cynicism or in a stimulation effect? By and large the media may stimulate political participation,but it is less clear when negative news will nullify this effect. Negative news may not only have short-term behavioral effects but also effects on underlying attitudes such as trust in politicians, which may produce their "sleeper effect" on political behavior only in the long run. This article addresses two related research questions.Will negative news discourage trust in political leaders? Will trust have a sleeper effect for future party choice and future turnout within the months to come? The 2002 Dutch election campaign,being an unprecedented negative campaign as compared to other Dutch campaigns, provides a good case to investigate these questions. On the basis of a biweekly seven-wave panel survey study and a daily content analysis of television news and newspapers,negative news was found to have a significant effect on trust in party leaders in addition to prior vote preference and education.The distrust in party leaders also had a significant sleeper effect in the long run on turnout and on the actual vote in addition to previous intentions.In general,these findings support the malaise theory. They are helpful to explain why the Christian Democrats could win the elections in defiance of the polls. © 2006 by the President and the Fellows of Harvard College.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-104
Number of pages19
JournalHarvard International Journal of Press/Politics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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