Nasty ads win

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Author: John Monczunski

Remember all those negative political ads on TV last fall? The ones that made you say you’d scream if you ever saw another one? Well, clear your throat and buy some lozenges, because it looks like they’re here to stay.

Based on the amount of negative advertising employed by candidates, last fall’s midterm election may have been the most negative in U.S. political history. An estimated $2 billion was spent on “issue” TV commercials, and in the last two months of the campaign 90 percent of those ads were negative. As outrageously high as those numbers are, they’re likely to stay high for one simple reason: Nasty works.

A study of the 2004 election by Notre Dame professors of marketing Joan Phillips and Joel Urbany and a Texas colleague found that negative ads get “more bang for the buck” compared to positive ads.

For instance, their study found that positive ads caused only 5 percent of those opposed to a candidate to become more favorably inclined to that candidate and had a negligible effect on supporters. Negative ads, however, had a much larger effect—in both directions. When subjects saw an ad attacking “their” candidate, 13.8 per cent were moved to defend him more strongly. But 13.8 percent also appeared to have their faith shaken, becoming more favorably inclined to the opposition.

“The goal of any campaign strategist is to get people into that undecided category,” Phillips noted in a U.S. News and World Report story on their research. “When we’re talking about millions of voters in a presidential election, a couple of percentage points is a huge shift.”

Remember all those negative political ads on TV last fall? The ones that made you say you’d scream if you ever saw another one? Well, clear your throat and buy some lozenges, because it looks like they’re here to stay.

Based on the amount of negative advertising employed by candidates, last fall’s midterm election may have been the most negative in U.S. political history. An estimated $2 billion was spent on “issue” TV commercials, and in the last two months of the campaign 90 percent of those ads were negative. As outrageously high as those numbers are, they’re likely to stay high for one simple reason: Nasty works.

A study of the 2004 election by Notre Dame professors of marketing Joan Phillips and Joel Urbany and a Texas colleague found that negative ads get “more bang for the buck” compared to positive ads.

For instance, their study found that positive ads caused only 5 percent of those opposed to a candidate to become more favorably inclined to that candidate and had a negligible effect on supporters. Negative ads, however, had a much larger effect—in both directions. When subjects saw an ad attacking “their” candidate, 13.8 per cent were moved to defend him more strongly. But 13.8 percent also appeared to have their faith shaken, becoming more favorably inclined to the opposition.

“The goal of any campaign strategist is to get people into that undecided category,” Phillips noted in a U.S. News and World Report story on their research. “When we’re talking about millions of voters in a presidential election, a couple of percentage points is a huge shift.”

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