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Does negative political advertising actually work? New study says “yes” but it depends on whether you’re a candidate or a PAC – ScienceDaily


While many fear campaign season for the proliferation of negative political advertising, a new study found that negative political advertising actually works, but maybe not the way many might assume.

The study “A Border Strategy Analysis of Ad Source and Message Tone in Senatorial Campaigns”, published in the June issue of INFORMS journal Marketing Science, is co-authored by Yanwen Wang of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Michael Lewis of Emory University in Atlanta; and David A. Schweidel of Georgetown University in Washington, DC

The study examined political advertising and its influence on the share of votes in two-party races in the 2010 and 2012 US Senatorial elections. It focused on advertising across the boundaries of Designated Marketing Areas (DMAs), in which discontinuities can exist leading to different exposure can lead to political advertising. DMAs are typically used by marketers to define marketing areas by city, town, or metropolitan area.

The study authors found that negative advertising has a strong impact on preferences and voter turnout, but not across the board. If the ads came from the candidates or campaigns themselves, the negative advertising proved more effective. If the negative advertising came from Political Action Committees (PACs), it wasn’t as effective.

“We examined commercial breaks along DMA borders within states to examine the impact of political advertising based on the source of the advertisement and the tone of the news,” said Yanwen Wang. “Our analysis used a dataset from the 2010 and 2012 Senate elections and included all of the domestic DMA boundaries for the 2010 and 2012 Senate elections, gross rating points for every ad (GRP) in these DMAs, every ad sponsorship and tone, demographic information, and county-level votes. “

Using GRPs to measure effectiveness, the study found that negative political advertising had a significant impact on bipartite voting. On the other hand, positive political advertising proved ineffective.

When the researchers compared the campaign ads created by the candidate campaigns with those of the PACs, they found that the PACs-sponsored advertisements were significantly less effective in terms of bipartite voting and ineffective in terms of voter turnout. “We find that negative promotional GRPs from candidates are roughly twice as effective as promotional GRPs sponsored by PACs,” said Michael Lewis. “In terms of voter mobilization, we find that negative advertising by candidate GRPs has a significant impact on voter turnout, but negative advertising by PACs is ineffective in mobilizing voter turnout.”

According to study author David Schweidel, the credibility of the person or group behind the ad can be crucial to the effectiveness of the advertisement.

“We believe that the pattern of results in our study is due to differences in the credibility of sources among different advertising sponsors and that advertising by PACs may lack credibility.”


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