The science of attack ads


Sadie Dingfelder reviews the latest research on political advertising.

In one study, published in 2005 in the American Journal of Political Science, Brader and his colleagues found that campaign ads that make people feel fear — with ominous music and grainy images of drugs and violence — caused people to seek more information and remember more facts from a newscast aired afterward. Ads that sparked feelings of enthusiasm in viewers — with upbeat music and images of flags and smiling children — reduced viewers’ interest in learning more about candidates’ positions, he found. “Fear ads heighten attentiveness and weaken people’s reliance on partisan habits, while enthusiasm ads reassure you, and reaffirm the choice you’ve already made,” Brader says…

In the past, campaigns have been wary of deploying negative ads for fear of backlash, says Ridout. However, that may be changing as campaign operatives see evidence that negative ads can break through party affiliations and also sway independent voters. A case in point: Mitt Romney’s February landslide in the Florida Republican primary came on the heels of the “most negative advertising campaign in history,” according to the nonprofit Campaign Media Analysis Group. The week before the primary, 99 percent of Romney’s ads were negative, while 95 percent of Newt Gingrich’s ads were negative.

Dingfelder also looks at the next frontier in political ads: subliminal messaging.


The science of attack ads

  1. Time to regulate political ads.

    • Or you can turn your tv off. 

      • I don’t watch TV….but it seems kinda stupid to have to turn your TV off, and miss a program because of political attack ads.

    • Past time really.

      As a Canadian what I’d like to see is spending limits outside of an election.

      • I agree….nothing outside an election….and during that election, ads with a spokesperson outlining what they are FOR, and where they want to lead the country……and leaving all other parties out of it.

        Treat voters as adults in other words….not as kids that can be frightened and manipulated.

        • What’s a political advertisement, though? Do you just limit it to adverts put out by the parties? What about when the gov’t of Canada puts out an advert trumpeting it’s Economic Action! Plan? Or when the Suzuki Foundation puts out an advert asking for support to protect our waterways? What if they mention in the advert that the government isn’t doing what it should be doing to protect them?

          If we just limit it to ads put out by the parties, the parties will simply donate to some friendly charity, which can donate to a political action group, which can run the ads.  Or if we restrict money from going out of the party, they’ll encourage their voters to donate to political friendly groups, which will be free to run ads and then donate the rest to the party.

          It’s a really difficult thing to regulate if parties decide that the letter of the law is all that matters, and that seems to be where we’ve arrived at over the past few years. (And some might argue that even the letter mattering is in doubt).

          I tend to think what would work better is to have the parties all open up their books completely.  Every six months, their accounts go online so any member of the public can peruse and publish.

          • A political ad is one done by a political party to gain votes in an election.

            Govt of Canada ads should only be about govt things….not promoting one party or the other.

            Nothing is stopping the oil patch from firing back as Suzuki….they aren’t about parties

            Nobody will be reading party books, anymore than they read the budget or MPs expense accounts.

          • Okay. How is “Just Visiting” an ad to gain votes? It’s certainly an ad to lose votes.. but to gain?

  2. The social science of attack ads, more like.

    Chronicle Of Higher Education:

    The discovery that the Dutch researcher Diederik A. Stapel made up the data for dozens of research papers has shaken up the field of social psychology, fueling a discussion not just about outright fraud, but also about subtler ways of misusing research data. Such misuse can happen even unintentionally, as researchers try to make a splash with their peers—and a splash, maybe, with the news media, too.

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