, Research Paper
AbstractThe purpose of the study is to focus on negative political advertisements and their effect on voter turnout. I will use an experimental design that manipulates the manner of television advertising while keeping many of the other aspects of the advertisement constant. To successfully execute this research, I will study people, the subjects during an ongoing political campaign. I will demonstrate that exposure to attack advertising will significantly decrease voter engagement and participation. My hypothesis can assert that campaigns can either be mobilizing events or the exact opposite, depending upon the nature of the messages they generate. Introduction There is a purpose to understanding the effects of negative advertising for political campaigns. Almost everyone at some point in their lives votes for a candidate whom they believe will do their very best to represent them. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements, some good and some bad, during a political election. As individuals, we must decide who would best symbolize our country s, state s, or city s needs and vote for that person. The unfortunate side of all of this is that most voters rely heavily on what is communicated to them through the media. American campaigns have changed dramatically since the 1940 s and 1950 s (Wilson, A1). Information technology has greatly improved over the years with the invention of television and especially the Internet. These technological advances have radically changed the nature and the tone of campaigns. Some campaigns have turned ugly and hostile, becoming apparent that candidates often criticize, discredit, and belittle their opponents rather than promote their own ideas programs. The inventions of new technology have lead to the increase in nasty campaign advertising. The tremendous speed at which information now travels increases the availability of negative campaigns within the media. This leads to the demobilizations hypothesis, which proposes that even when voters are likely to go out and vote, these prominent attack ads make them hesitant to do so. People should be aware of these negative campaign messages, which is why it is worth studying the effects of negative political advertising.Review of Literature Since the early 1980 s negative advertising has become the dominant strategy for most campaigns for high visibility offices in the United States. According to Johnson-Cartee, Negative political advertising is political advertising that implicitly or explicitly places the opposition in an inferior position (1997). Negative political advertising is a manifestation of a political ad, an argument that calls into question a candidate s suitability for office. Fitness for office is the crucial voter test when making the voting decision (Johnson-Cartee, 1997). The influence of negative information is strong because it is easier to retrieve then positive information during information processing and it is retained in long-term memory. In order for negative political advertising to work, it must be believable, be factually supported, and be considered fair. If voters perceive that a candidate is unfairly attacking or misrepresenting an issue while discussing the opposition, this can lead to backlash against the sponsoring candidate. Campaign advertising was once relied on to get the candidates issues across to the voters, but now the advertisements are primarily used to trash the opponents. In a recent article published in the Washington Post, Vice President Gore was quoted saying that Bush is a racist and if elected would appoint Supreme Court justices with views reminiscent of the days when blacks were considered three-fifths of a human being” (Connolly & Nakashima, 2000). Likewise, Senator Charles Robb was quoted saying that his opponent (George Allen) was very apathetic towards the racial concerns of those whom he would be representing (Melton & Ginsberg, 2000). These attacks may have lead to misinterpretations by voters or may have convinced them to vote another way according to what they have been told by the media. With this being the most expensive election in history, there have been more than enough attack ads and dirty politics. Stephen Ansolabehere, author of Going Negative, believes that negative advertising drives down voter turnout, and that political consultants intentionally use ads for this purpose (Ansolabehere, 1997). This is true for those candidates who believe that they have a significant lead in the polls, because if they already have a good enough lead, they might as well cut down on the voter turn out to guarantee their success. When negative reporting is happening consistently it registers in the mind of the public. When the polls open, the public responds negatively (Iyengar, 1997). If a politician refuses to talk about, or counteract a negative ad posed by his opponent, he/she then denies their relationship with the voter. This action, or inaction leaves the candidate s behavior open to interpretation. This silence also allows the news media to define the politician s behavior without the leaders input into the process. Therefore, politicians in this era harm themselves. Yet, as a result, mudslinging and attack ads increase within an election period. The most popular response strategy to a negative ad is to deny the accusation and then to turn and attack the opposition (Johnson-Cartee, 1997). This escalates the negativity of the campaign, because the counter-attack must be far more powerful than the original ad in order to draw the voter s attention away from the original ad.
Kathleen Jaimeson agrees with Ansolabehere and Iyengar that negative, or attack political advertising does harm the voter. She believes that voters could avoid the negative effects of those ads. If listeners are alerted that a speech is designed to persuade them, they are less influenced by it than a group not forewarned (Jaimeson, 1992). Exposure to political commercials was the second most important criterion on voter defections (Johnson-Cartee, 1997).Research Question:1. Does the negative appeal of political advertising keep people, 21-50 years old, from voting?Hypothesis:1. Exposure to negative (attack) advertising significantly decreases voter turnout. Methodology The variable of my experiment include the independent, dependent, and confounding variables. The independent variable for the hypothesis is negative political advertising. The dependent variable for the hypothesis is voter turnout. The voter turnout depends upon a variety of influences or confounding variables. I came up with four, which are the competitiveness of the race, the intellect of the voter, the electorate s sense of civic duty, and the length of the advertisement. This experiment would have to be done throughout an election period, during which I would chose fifty subjects non-randomly by offering them ten dollars per person. I will gather subjects by advertising in local newspapers, putting flyers up on campus, and calling names of people on voter registration lists, making sure to get subjects in between the age requirements. The study will take approximately an hour during which the subjects will view a twenty-minute news program and fill out a questionnaire at the end. They will be given a pretest concerning their social background, how involved they are with the media, and their political interest. After completion of the pretest, the subjects will be divided into two groups and set into separate rooms with large screen televisions and headphones for each individual to lessen outside influences. They will then watch a twenty-minute video recording of a recent local newscast. One group will see the negative political ad, while the other will see the positive ad. Following the completion of the video, the volunteers will then complete a lengthy questionnaire that focuses on their beliefs and opinions on a wide range of campaign issues. I will also include questions concerning participants voting intentions and general level of involvement in the campaign. (There is a sample questionnaire in the appendix section of this paper.) The statistical method I used is the Spearman-Rho Correlation method used to assess the correlation between the amount of time exposed to negative ads (independent variable) and their effect on voter turnout (dependent variable). What I will observe is that this study will prove that attack advertising extracts a toll on electoral participation. It will also show the more a politician gets negative coverage, the less supported he/she will become.Discussion I limited my analysis to the effects of negative advertising on intention to vote and support of the politician that has been negatively portrayed. In the posttest questionnaire, I was able to ascertain whether participants were registered to vote. Using registration as a filter, I then asked, Do you plan to vote in the upcoming election? Through this I could identify likely voters as those who were both registered and who stated their intention of voting. For the statistical data, I will compare the percentage of viewers classified as likely voters among participants who watched both versions of the advertisements. Those exposed to the negative ads are going to be less likely to vote than those exposed to the positive ad. In addition, those who viewed the positive ad will have an increased voting intention. The experimental results will demonstrate that exposure to negative advertising depresses intention to vote by a small but significant margin. If I consider the scope of my experimental manipulation (a single 30-second ad embedded in a 15-minute news cast) and then consider how many of these ads are shown during an election period, the effects are incredible. The effects of attack advertising on the decision to vote have significant implications for our understanding of the impact of campaigns on electoral outcomes. Voter withdrawal in response to negative advertising also raises questions concerning the legitimate, ethical, and fair uses of broadcast advertising (Jaimeson, 1997). I have demonstrated throughout my research that exposure to attack advertising will significantly decrease voter engagement and participation. My hypothesis can assert that campaigns can be either mobilizing or demobilizing events, depending upon the nature of the messages they generate. Advertising can alter what people think, the way they perceive events and life in general. Therefore, it is imperative for the public to have some sort of understanding concerning the power of advertising.