Do political ads have a lasting impact?
"Not really," according to John G. Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University. "The current data suggests ads have a shelf life of three to four days. Once the ads stop running, they are quickly forgotten." Geer is the author of "In Defense of Negativity."
Ted Brader, a University of Michigan political scientist ran tests to determine the effects of feel good ads vs. fear ads for his book, "Campaigning for hearts and Minds: How emotional appeals in Political ads work." Brader reports that positive ads have the ability to make people act without thinking and negative ads -- which generate fear or anger -- prompt people to evaluate information more carefully.
"People regard fear ads as the worst kind of negative ad." That's a misconception according to Brader. "Fear is useful in political discourse, he says. It can direct public attention to important issues. It prompts people to seek more information and rethink their course of action."
While experts appear to agree that individual ads lack lasting impact, the cumulative effects of multiple ads can shape the public's overall perception of a candidate. In fact, Brader tells readers, "If the ads were successful in painting a candidate as extreme, it could be polarizing," creating doubts that carry over into the newly elected official's term.
Local Negative Advertising --
Locally, the hands down winner for negative ads is Steve Van Luven (R -Washington) candidate for State Senate in the 40th Legislative District. Van Luven and his supporters circulated fliers and mailers claiming that his opponent, Kevin Ranker(D) wants a cop killer released from prison. Sam Taylor, Gov. Reporter for The Bellingham Herald did a great job debunking the distortions and lies in Van Luven's ads.
Across the State --
The jury is still out on this one. (Gregoire and Rossi still have 3 days to throw mud at each other).
Across the Nation --
The hands down winner for the top negative political ad of all time is the "Daisy" ad former President Lyndon B. Johnson (D) ran against Barry Goldwater(R) back in 1964. The ad features a little girl sitting in a field, plucking pedals from a daisy -- just before she is annihilated by a nuclear explosion.
Love them or Hate them -- other Effective Ads
The 1988 Willie Horton ad created for former President George H.W. Bush, (R). The Horton ad claimed that Michael Dukakis's(D) revolving prison door policy gave weekend furloughs to first degree murders not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes, including rape and kidnapping. "Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts. America can't afford that risk," the ad said.
Back in 2003, Arianna Huffington (D-California), who ran in the gubernatorial recall election ran an Internet ad that cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis, President George Bush (and others) as characters in a "special interest brothel" with G strings and pasties.
The Creative Touch --
Diane Benson (D-Alaska) Under the title of relevant "Experience.” Benson created a video of herself scooping up dog poop in her back yard. The video can be viewed at the Politico.com link below.
Locally, Mark Flanders (D-Washington), candidate for State House, 42nd Legislative District, who used Value Coupons to advertise his campaign.
Background resource materials:
From Politico: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1008/14899.html
From Minnesota Public Radio links and listed resources (links go directly to MPR site).
The worst political ads in America (story audio)
Daisy ad: LBJ vs. Barry Goldwater, 1964. One award is named after this ad
Willie Horton ad: George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis, 1988
Dean Alger sings "Your Cheatin' Heart in Those Campaign Ads"
"Special interest brothel"
Arianna Huffington ad: Special Interest Brothel (requires Flash player)
Political Communication Lab at Stanford University: Research on political advertising