Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sorry, But Research Shows Negative Political Ads are Effective

I just read a column today from another person writing about how they hate negative political advertisements. I tend to agree.

Where we part company is when the writer starts attributing low voter turnout to the increase in negative advertisements (at least at the state and national levels). There is no research to support that position.

There is also no research to support the suggestion that a larger voter turnout will result in a "better" or different outcome.

There is a lot of research to support the belief that negative advertisements are effective. Research like this study entitled, "Effectiveness of Negative Political Advertisement" done at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

"Overall, negative political advertising produced negative evaluations of both the sponsor and the target. Those effects are consistent with the findings of the previous research."

The basic rule of thumb I learned while earning my political science degree was that 40% of voters will fall on either side of an issue or side with one candidate over another no matter what. For example, 40% will vote for the Republican, not matter what.

What that means is that candidates, or groups pushing issues, are really only fighting over the 20% in the middle (normally undecided voters). Not all of that 20% will bother to show up and vote.

The University of Missouri study also notes that young and poor voters seems to be most influenced by negative advertisements. Guess where those two demographics largely reside in the 40%-20%-40% formula? Yep, in the 20% trying to be reached.

Still not convinced? You might want to check out this study too: "Hate Negative Political Ads All You Want, They Work" in US News and World Report.

"According to a new paper, though, "Confirmation and the Effects of Positive and Negative Political Advertising," by a group of marketing professors from Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business and the University of Texas–Dallas, negative political ads are also surprisingly effective at swinging voters toward their sponsor. In a study conducted in the final weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign, researchers found that negative ads caused 14 percent of viewers to change their minds about their favored candidate. 'People who use negative ads have long been convinced they work,' says coauthor Joan Phillips, a professor of marketing at Mendoza. 'Academics have just had a hard time proving it'."

As for decreased voter turnout, there appears to very little research supporting that position. In fact, the opposite exists, like this study.

"Krasno and Green have argued that political advertising has no impact on voter turnout. We remain unconvinced by their evidence ... but differences aside, we strongly agree that political advertising does little to undermine voter participation.

I'm sure more research could be done on this issue, and everyone has their own opinion I'm sure, but saying negative ads are solely responsible for low voter turnout is way too simplistic.


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