During the weeks leading up to an election, political ads on television abound, many of them designed to unashamedly bash the opponent.
But do these negative ads work? According to a new study, the answer is yes — to a point.
The findings show that a negative political ad is most effective when shown in moderation. On the other hand, extremely frequent exposure to a negative ad has a backlash effect on how the sponsoring candidate is viewed.
“People will be more likely to appreciate and vote for the candidate who is sponsoring the negative advertisement if the ad is presented in a spaced-out manner, over time,” said study leader Juliana Fernandes, Ph.D., assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of Miami School of Communication.
“A candidate who doesn’t have a large budget for political advertising can use the same advertising over and over again, but in a way that is more strategic.”
For the study, 150 university students watched the repetition (one, three, or five exposures) of a 30-second negative political ad of candidates who were most likely unknown to them. The ads were shown sequentially, making for a massive presentation.
The findings reveal that students were most likely to vote for the sponsoring candidate when the ad was viewed only three times and least likely when they were exposed to the ad five times.
In another test, 306 university students viewed advertisements for unknown candidates during a 30-minute television program, with varying time intervals between ad repetitions.
Participants then filled out questionnaires to evaluate the sponsor and the attacked candidates as well as the likelihood of voting for them.
The results showed that larger time intervals between repetitions of the ad boost the evaluation of the sponsoring candidate and disfavor the evaluation of the target candidate.
The results stayed the same even with increased repetition.
“In my study, I show that negative political ads do work under certain conditions,” Fernandes said. “I think they can help the political process because people can look at some facts, process the information more carefully, and later on—when people cast their votes—they can make an informed decision.”
The study will be published in the journal Mass Communication and Society.
Source: University of Miami