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2 The Problem of Persuasion O UR QUESTION in this book is simply put: Is political advertising little more than background noise, or do ads influence the choices that voters make? There are two ways by which advertising could influence a person’s vote choice—or, at least, who wins an election. The first possibility, and the most direct, is that advertising may influence people’s evaluations of political candidates. As advertising makes one candidate look more or less attractive, the likelihood that the viewer will cast a vote for that candidate will rise or decline. The second possibility is a bit more indirect—namely, advertising may encourage or discourage supporters of one candidate from turning out to vote on Election Day. Thus, a candidate may win an election not because she has more supporters among the electorate but because her supporters are more fired up about going to the polls. Our focus in this book is on the first way in which advertising might affect outcomes: by directly affecting people’s evaluations of candidates. Why do we focus on this route of influence? One reason is that the impact of advertising, especially negative advertising, on voter turnout has already been studied extensively. For much of the 1990s, scholars were motivated to study the relationship between ad tone and voter turnout because of the controversial claim of Ansolabehere and Iyengar (1995) that negative ads demobilized citizens and depressed 22 Î Chapter 2 election turnout. Much ink has already been spilled on this question, and we have waded into the debate ourselves as recently as 2008 (Franz, Freedman, Goldstein, and Ridout 2008). Indeed, we would suggest that scholars have devoted more time to investigating important byproduct effects of advertising, such as the relationship between advertising tone and citizens’ involvement or participation in the political system (Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1995; Djupe and Peterson 2002; Goldstein and Freedman 1999; Kahn and Kenney 1999; Lau and Pomper 2004; Martin 2004; Peterson and Djupe 2005) than they have to studying ad persuasion.1 The other reason we focus on the more direct impacts of advertising on candidate evaluations and voting choice is that most recent evidence suggests that advertising’s impact on voter turnout is likely very small, if it exists at all (Jackson, Mondak, and Huckfeldt 2009; Krasno and Green 2008; Lau, Sigelman, and Rovner 2007). In short, while the debate over ad tone and turnout seems to have reached some consensus, there still seems to be much to learn about the extent of advertising’s direct impact on voting choice. To be fair, the most recent and most sophisticated experimental and observational studies in this area do find that advertising is effective in moving votes.2 For instance, one study found that the difference in the volume of state-level presidential advertising between the two major-party candidates predicted vote choice in both 2000 and 2004 (Shaw 2006); an increase of 1,000 gross ratings points from a candidate was worth about 0.1 percent of the vote. In addition, studies based on survey evidence (Goldstein and Freedman 2000; Huber and Arceneaux 2007) have also concluded that advertising does move voters . Yet even with a renewed focus on such questions, an important 1 As we have asserted elsewhere (Franz, Freedman, Goldstein, and Ridout 2007), such questions are vitally important for American democracy, but they are of less interest to candidates and campaign decision makers, who share a single, simple objective: winning elections . As such, we label them byproduct effects, but we recognize that they are direct effects and worthy of study in their own right. 2 A number of studies have asked about the relationship between ads and voter persuasion, but many of these studies are fairly limited in that they focus on one contest or use predominately a handful of undergraduates in experimental settings. We discuss these studies in our literature review in this chapter, but we also devote Chapter 3 to a more specific discussion of research design challenges. The Problem of Persuasion D 23 question remains: under what conditions is advertising most likely to matter for voting choice? We argue that the impact of political advertising in a political campaign is likely contingent and depends on three factors: the campaign context in which ads are aired; the characteristics of the ads; and the receiver of the ad messages. In the sections that follow, we review the existing literature on these claims and offer a series of testable hypotheses that we explore...


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