BTC: They taste awful and they work


One of the researchers at Angus Reid has helpfully sent along his presentation on these findings.

What they essentially did was compare reactions to two Conservative ads: the succinctly entitled Gamble 3 and Family is Everything.

Not surprisingly, the attack ad was better, at least in the abstract, at moving votes. Among declared Liberals, seven percent said they were less likely to vote Liberal after seeing the negative ad, 10 percent said they were more likely to vote Conservative. Family is Everything was about half as effective with Liberal voters (three percent less likely to vote Liberal, six percent more likely to vote Conservative). 

The more general question to the surveyed audience was this: Based solely on what you saw in the ad, are you more or less likely to vote in this election? The responses were tabulated as follows.

Family is Everything
More likely: 28%
No impact: 69%
Less likely: 3%

Gamble 3
More likely: 25%
No impact: 64%
Less likely: 11%

So if you were looking for a positive spin it’s that the attack ad made maybe 25% of the population even more eager to vote. But—with all the usual caveats about polling and self-reporting and drawing big conclusions from a single study—that 11% figure is probably important, especially if you extrapolate outwards to imagine the effect of other aspects of modern politics (flyers, discourse, rhetoric, media coverage, etc). Somehow, of course, these things can’t be taken seriously until there’s a number attached.

If nothing else it is at least cause to ask each of the federal parties the following: How do you reconcile the fact that your practices are actively discouraging citizens from participating in the political process? Do you feel you have a responsibility to encourage public engagement with democracy? And, given these findings, would you commit to changing your practices in the future?


BTC: They taste awful and they work

  1. Answers:

    How do you reconcile the fact that your practices are actively discouraging citizens from participating in the political process?

    We don’t have to. We’re quite comfortable with cognitive dissonance.

    Do you feel you have a responsibility to encourage public engagement with democracy?

    Oh good God, no.

    And, given these findings, would you commit to changing your practices in the future?

    Who are you? How did you get so close to me to ask these impertinent questions? Where’s the RCMP?

  2. Sounds about right, TiGuy.

  3. Yikes. Logical leapfrog.

    First, that the answer to that question has anything to do with actual voting likelihood. Maybe it does, but I don’t have any evidence from this, and I’m inclined to believe that people tend not to know how ads affect them.

    Second, the suggestion that being made “less likely to vote” is important. If I go from 99% likely to vote to 97% likely to vote, I’m less likely to vote.

    Why not ask whether they are going to vote before and after seeing the ad? Maybe because that wouldn’t give them the opportunity to show how disgusted they are (supposed to be) by negative advertising.

    Third, the idea that non-voting is non-participation. Not true.

    And fourth, the idea that this data can be used to argue that negative campaigns are “actively discouraging” voting. 25% more likely and 11% less likely is not “actively discouraging.” It should, if you ignore the logical fallacies above, imply that more people will vote.

    Don’t get me wrong. It seems to me that any political party that can’t put a healthy democracy ahead of its own electoral interests does not deserve votes. Unfortunately, I think even with these options we still need a government.

    That said, I also think that we have to put logic ahead of any benefit that might be gained to our own point of view. So next time find some evidence that actually supports your conclusion.

  4. About the only thing I am learning is to ignore polls, and especially to mistrust anyone in the media who tries to explain it to us.

    “Based solely on the ad you just saw…” Could there be a more meaningless question to democracy? Who bases a decision on their voting intention on a single meaningless item among the cacophonic social swirl that is life?

    “Gamble 3, Less Likely 11%.” Let’s back up to BTC’s Harper-loves-voter-cynicism post. I commented that if I cared, I would want to see the Q. Well, I don’t care that much but it now looks like I have been shown the question.

    Would this celebrated 11% be the same as “ubiquitous roll-of-the-dice TV ads that targeted Liberal leader Stephane Dion as a flip-flopping advocate of a carbon tax persuaded 11 per cent of Canadian respondents not to vote for any candidate at all.” ?

    If so, then turn out the lights. “Based solely on this ad, 11% said they felt less likely to vote.” “That vicious Tory attack ad persuaded 11% to not vote at all, for anyone.” These statements are the same? On what planet?

    Wow. ITQ is looking for a linguist in the current roster of MPs. Looks like a couple could be profitably invested in the journalism field.

  5. Sorry, Aaron. The reporting on prospective polling is a dangerous distraction.

    Retrospective analysis of the same polls just doesn’t matter.

    On the other hand, all the right people seem to be irritated by it. So that’s good.

  6. I believe that the Reform party began a negativity trend that has led to turning off voters. It began with portraying politicians as “pigs to the trough”, “in politics for themselves”, “you can’t believe politicians”. I think they were surprised when they became MPs and found that people now thought that about them! But the themes became part of the popular lexicon. It has been compounded by attack ads that throw dirt on rival politicians, further adding to the image. You are now are hearing people say that there is no use in voting for anyone because they are all the same – “you can’t believe politicians”. There needs to be a balancing vision of hope before Canadians will have the confidence to vote in higher percentages.

  7. It seems pretty clear than cynicism and disillusionment is part of the CPC strategy. They know that their base is the most motivated, so the fewer people vote overall, the higher percentage of the vote they themselves get. I imagine this strategy can only work for so long–I guess we’ll see if the CPC tries to become the party of starry-eyed idealism before they get the boot.

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