Does calling your political opponent names work? Prof. Aaron Dusso and former student Sydnee Perkins designed a research project in order to provide that answer. Their article titled, “Crooked Hillary and Sleepy Joe: Name-Calling’s Backfire Effect on Candidate Evaluations,” was recently published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties.
Since graduating in 2020, Sydnee has spent time with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and currently works at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s Expungement Help Desk as a paralegal. Congratulations to Sydnee! She’s now a published author and building her career!
Throughout his political career Donald Trump has utilized name-calling when referring to his opponents. These pejoratives are a ubiquitous part of political discourse in contemporary society. Scholarly research has yet to examine the effect that this type of incivility has on individuals’ evaluations of both the attacker (i.e., the person using name-calling) and the victim. Our research aims to fill this gap by testing the effect of name-calling through the implementation of a national survey experiment. We test the effect of name-calling on candidate evaluations by randomly inserting a pejorative in front of a fictitious candidate’s name in a news story. Our findings indicate that name-calling often backfires. Respondents who saw the pejorative tend to rate the attacker lower. Our findings also show an odd partisan symmetry in how respondents rate this behavior by their co-partisans, i.e., both Republicans and Democrats punish Democratic candidates that use name-calling but ignore Republicans’ use of it.