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The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Campaign ads, although excessive, actually do impact voters, according to researchers.
Turning on a TV or going on social media the week before the November Midterms will inundate a user with information and political campaign ads.
Nonpartisan research firm AdImpact projected this year to be the most expensive election cycle ever in terms of advertising — and that’s for a reason.
“The long, the short of it is that repeated exposure does seep in and can shape attitudes,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor and researcher cited nationally for her work on the efficacy of campaign ads.
There are a few ways ads are proven to work, especially when they help increase name recognition, she said.
“When you hear it over and over and over again… You can’t help but start to pay a little bit of attention and try to understand, like, what’s this about? Who is this about?” she said. “That messaging, those stories, in some cases, the attacks, will stick.”
Ohio University professor Benjamin Bates agreed but stated the much more persuasive type of ad is actually the attack ad — but not in the way the consumer may think.
“They say ‘everyone lies in these ads and everyone’s terrible, so why should I bother to participate?'” Bates said.
Research done by each of them shows that negative attacks don’t make people support the opponent, but rather make voters less likely to show up on Election Day.
“Anything I can do to take a vote away from the other person essentially counts as two votes for my side because I take one away from them and that’s one less that they have,” Bates said, acting as if he was a campaign manager. “My votes are twice as valuable.”
That can definitely be perceived as bleak, and rather undemocratic, that candidates or groups would want to stop people from voting, the professor said.
“This is a dystopia,” Bates said.
It’s not just candidates using techniques to stop people from voting, it’s not the political action committees spending endless amounts of money on advertising, but it’s also the misinformation and disinformation coming from other countries hoping to interfere.
“We can see a lot of destructive effects to democracy in that it makes us say, ‘these are all terrible people. I don’t want to participate in the political system at all,'” he added. “And that’s the real drawback of unregulated political advertising.”
About 20% of voters don’t even think about who they’re going to vote for until a week before Election Day, he said.
This is most likely why you are seeing more campaign ads than ever before, especially in a race like the U.S. Senate, Stromer-Galley added.
“In tight races where you just need a couple thousand votes to make the difference, you’re going to bet on an advertisement to try to pull those people,” she said.
Consumers and voters like to act like they can be rational and make conscious decisions about who to vote for and why, but they actually tend to vote more based on emotions, Stromer-Galley said.
“For advertisements, if they’re working, the emotional aspect, especially negative emotions, they’re more likely to stick,” she said.
Luckily, there is only one week until they are finally over. That is… until the next election cycle.
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