Study Finds Attack Ads By SuperPACs Are More Effective Than Official Campaign Ads


While many in the media and in politics decry the new role of SuperPACs in this presidential campaign, a new scientific study is showing they may have a very beneficial effect for campaigns no matter what side of the aisle uses them– voters tend to react more positively towards attack ads from independent groups than they do ads from campaigns. The reason? According to American Politics Research, attack ads always make voters think somewhat badly of the candidate running them, and with independent groups being linked to no one in particular, that negative effect erodes.

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The study appeared in Science Daily last week and details how they got their results– showing a control group ads for fictional candidates from both “independent groups” and “candidates”:

According to a recent article in American Politics Research, a SAGE journal, the power of ads sponsored by independent groups rests not just in their sheer volume, but also in their relative effectiveness. When an attack ad is sponsored by an independent group, the authors found that the ad is far more effective than when the same ad is sponsored by a candidate. […]

Brooks and Murov conducted an experiment by showing a negative state-level election ad about a particular fictitious candidate. The ad was either endorsed by the candidate’s opponent, by a nonpartisan independent group, or unattributed to either and shown to a sample of 1,500 U.S. adults.

Regardless of sponsorship, Brooks and Murov found that the ads were similarly persuasive regarding the flaws of the candidate who was the target of the ad. The difference was that public penalized a candidate for sponsoring such an ad with what is known as a “backlash” effect. Because there was far less backlash aimed towards the benefitting candidate if the ad sponsor was an independent group, the attack was far more effective when it was sponsored by Citizens for a Better State Government than by the candidate himself.

The political scientists behind the study note that the more this trend becomes prevalent, the more likely independent groups are to use increasingly incendiary ads to gain attention, as there is little to no potential backlash for their candidate. Many studies have previously shown that, as a rule of thumb, negative ads work, as long as the backlash against the person running it isn’t greater than their intended effect.

h/t Science Daily

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