Negative Advertising In Politics Works

While many may dread campaign season because of the bad energy associated with negative political advertising, a new study has found that such ads actually work.

Negative advertising in politics works, but it’s more effective if the advertising comes directly from a candidate or candidate’s campaign. That’s according to “A Border Strategy Analysis of Ad Source and Message Tone in Senatorial Campaigns,” to be published in the June edition of Informs journal Marketing Science

Negative advertising from political action committees (PAC) is less effective by comparison. Positive political advertising also is less effective.

The study — co-authored by Yanwen Wang of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Michael Lewis of Emory University in Atlanta; and David A. Schweidel of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.— examined political advertising and its impact on the share of the vote in two-party races in 2010 and 2012 U.S. senatorial campaigns.  



It focused on advertising across the borders of designated marketing areas (DMA) where discontinuities may exist that lead to different levels of exposure to political advertising. DMAs are typically used by marketers to define marketing areas by town, city or major metropolitan area. 

The study authors found that negative advertising is powerful in terms of influencing preferences and voter turnout, but not across the board. When the ads are from the candidates or campaigns themselves, the negative advertising was found to be more effective.

The analysis used a data set from the 2010 and 2012 senatorial elections, and it included all the within-state DMA borders for 2010 and 2012 senatorial elections, gross rating points for every ad in these DMAs, every ad sponsorship and tone, demographic information and county-level votes. 

Using gross rating points (GRP) to measure effectiveness, the study found that negative political advertising has a significant effect on two-party vote shares. On the other hand, positive political advertising was found to be ineffective.

When the researchers compared campaign ads created by candidates’ campaigns to those created by PACs, they found that advertising sponsored by PACs is significantly less effective in terms of two-party vote shares and ineffective in terms of turnouts. 

Negative advertising GRPs from candidates are approximately twice as effective as advertising GRPs sponsored by PACs.  

“In terms of mobilizing voters, we find that negative advertising GRPs from candidates have a significant effect on voter turnout, but negative advertising from PACs is ineffective in mobilizing turnouts,” according to the study.

The credibility of the person or group behind the ad may be the determining factor on the effectiveness of the advertising, according to the authors.

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