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The ad that moved people the most: Bernie Sanders’ ‘America’


They may be hard to remember, but there were a few things about the 2016 presidential election that made people happy and hopeful. Perhaps even more difficult to believe is that some of these things were campaign advertising.

Some ads for the 2016 campaign stand out for how happy and hopeful they made people, and one ad in particular dominated. That ad was Bernie Sanders’ minute-long commercial called “America”.

The ad is a montage of American images – farms, towns, windmills, offices, cafes and kitchen tables – to the well-known song of the same name by Simon & Garfunkel. Aside from the mandatory declaration of consent at the end, there is no sound other than the tune and background noise of American life, which occasionally includes the increasing and decreasing roar of the crowd as Mr. Sanders comes in and out of the picture.

As the duo sings, “They all came to look for America,” videos of thousands of supporters meeting Mr. Sanders at different times and locations flow across the screen and divide into squares on a quilt that is spreading multiplied again and again until there are too many to see.

It was one of many advertisements that John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, and I showed in front of an audience during the campaign. We ran a weekly experiment called SpotCheck, where we randomly assigned one of two campaign ads to a representative sample of 1,000 people. We evaluated the persuasiveness of the ads and asked users to rate the ads based on criteria, e.g. B. Whether they are happy, hopeful, angry, or worried.

By far, Mr. Sanders’ “America” was the 2016 ad that made SpotCheck’s reviewers the happiest and most hopeful. Nearly 80 percent of viewers said the ad made them at least a little happy and hopeful the week it debuted – including more than half of the Republicans who saw it.

We combined the ad with a Hillary Clinton spot called All the Good, which was also well tested. It featured the dominant voice of Morgan Freeman and a moving string soundtrack, but only half of the reviewers said that ad made them happy and hopeful.

Mr Sanders’ ad also made people feel better about our democracy and increased his positive ratings compared to those who saw an apolitical ad or Ms. Clinton’s spot.

We asked people to think like a recruiter advising candidates. Would you tell the campaign to “run the ad a lot” because it is “good at getting it done?” Was it “good but not great”? Or worse, did the ad have to be discontinued because it “just doesn’t work”?

Again, Mr. Sanders’ “America” ​​performed better than any other ad. More than half of people who saw this ad said they would advise the campaign to run it a lot – including 51 percent of Republicans and nearly 60 percent of Independents.

Recently, when I heard Mr. Sanders’ chief strategist Tad Devine talk about creating this ad during an autopsy for the campaign at the University of Southern California, he described the care with which each frame of the ad was selected and later told the story about finding out the iconic folk tune would be available for the campaign. He seemed to realize that he was making an ad for the ages.

Other ads that made voters feel good were John Kasich’s “America: Never. Give. High.”

It was another American pride advertisement, in this case about the “hard” upbringing of Mr. Kasich, coupled with a catchy pseudo-funk soundtrack. It scored particularly well on hope.

Two of Mrs. Clinton’s ads, “For Those Who Depend on Us” and “Quiet Moments,” which discussed her commitment to children, college affordability, and health care, inspired people, but with greater partisan divisions than the Sanders commercial.

Just as encouraging was Donald J. Trump’s “Movement” campaign, a result that was mainly supported by members of his party.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, there were the ads that made people angry or concerned. Most of the attack ads fall into this category, but one high-scoring ad was Mr. Trump’s election advertisement entitled “Laura”.

The display is more of a contrast display than an attack display, mentioning Ms. Clinton’s policy only once. The ad shows Laura Wilkerson telling the story of her son’s death. Josh, she explains, was brutally killed by a man who entered illegally. The commercial is mostly emotional because of Laura’s intimate conversation with viewers.

Almost two-thirds of people who saw the ad said they were at least a little worried, and 85 percent said they were angry. There may be differences between the parties that made people angry about the ad, but one telling statistic is that 51 percent of independents said they thought the ad was the truth.

Despite his emotional performance, “Laura” didn’t move much for Mr. Trump in terms of his favorable ratings compared to Mrs. Clinton’s.

The same was true of some of the advertisements that gave people hope. It seems to give the feeling that people don’t always correlate with changing their minds about the candidates. But these highly emotional ads may have had other effects that we didn’t track, such as influencing voter turnout, encouraging conversations with friends, encouraging donations, or increasing media coverage.

As we write the story of the 2016 election, part of the story should be how some advertisements inspired people to feel happy and hopeful about the country and the decisions that lie ahead. The campaigns weren’t just about yelling, abuse and identity politics. In rare moments, candidates from both parties gave voters something that was not dissatisfaction.


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