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Friday, January 14, 2011

Campaign Ads in 2010

Our chapter on elections and campaigns (p. 349) notes that campaign ads have both good and bad effects for deliberation and citizenship. In The Forum, Erika Franklin Fowler and Travis N. Ridout sum up a study of 2010 ads:
Although there is still much to be learned about the effects of advertising on citizen attitudes, perceptions, and behavior—and more to be learned from this cycle’s ad war in particular—previous research does give us a good sense of what some of those effects might be. One nontrivial benefit of record spending and record airings this cycle is that many voters, whether they liked it or not, were undoubtedly exposed to more campaign information than in previous election cycles and therefore were more likely to make informed choices at the ballot box (Coleman and Manna 2000, Franz, et al. 2007).

The unprecedented negativity in 2010 may also have some good consequences. For instance, Geer (2006) shows that negative ads are actually more likely to talk about policy issues, and thus negative ads may be informative ads. Negative ads may also raise the stakes, motivating people to get out and vote (Freedman and Goldstein 1999). But negative advertising is a perennial favorite topic of news media (Fowler and Ridout 2009), and with record levels of negativity this cycle, the amplification of negativity through media was also likely at record levels.