Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stepping Back to Look Forward

The key word, the operative word, is science.  Science requires a level of thoroughness and scrutiny that exists in very few arenas.  Anyone can reach a conclusion based on a set of facts or statistics, but science requires that conclusion to be placed under extreme scrutiny by other academics, by other political scientists.  Only then, after being rigorously tested, can an argument or conclusions be considered valid or sound.  Furthermore, science seeks to explain that which is not understood, not just in one specific instance but in all similar instances.  In all of my research one thing was consistent, no political scientist attempted to explain the results of one elections or the cause for one defeat, but for numerous defeats and numerous elections over years and decades.  Using this they attempted to explain anomalies, predict future outcomes, illuminate inconsistencies.

If you can explain how a bill becomes a law then you have studied politics, the political system; but if you can show what bills are most or least likely to pass the House, or the Senate, or be signed into law, based on extensive evidence to support your conclusion, then you have practiced political science.

What amazes me most is the reach of political science.  Politics covers all areas of life.  The decisions made in Washington have implications across the United States and beyond.  As a political scientist, the research I conduct can affect those decisions, thus affecting the World and everyone that lives in it.  That’s how the academic nature of political science translates into real-life applications. 

As I continue my studies in law school next year, I look forward to continuing my research into political science.  With the tools and insights gained from this past semester, I imagine my excitement will only increase with every new idea or new concept I discover due to advanced research skills.  I just hope that one day the research I do will have the same effect on some young, motivated academic as this past research has had on me.

Knowledgeable Voters Make Quality Voters

Another argument I wanted to address regarding campaign advertising in general is their informational content (or lack thereof).  Some critics believe that campaign ads are character attack driven, rather than issue driven, thus leaving the electorate with little or no informational value regarding core problems in the United States.  I admit, I too have felt that way sometimes when seeing a political ad that seems to focus only on negative issues that are personal in nature.  I did, however, find conflicting results in the relevant literature.

I have since finished my research paper, but wanted to update my bloggers as to my results.  Below is an excerpt from that paper regarding a study done in 2004 focusing on the informational content of campaign ads.  The study was done by Freedman, Franz and Goldstein, and they

argue that over the last several decades, television campaign advertising has subsidized the informational needs of the American citizenry.  In their conclusion, Freedman et. al. argued convincingly that “exposure to campaign advertising produces citizens who are more interested in the election, have more to say about the candidates, are more familiar with who is running, and ultimately, are more likely to vote” (Freedman, Franz and Goldstein 2004).  Additionally, their study found that the impact of the campaign ads had the greatest effect on those who had the least amount of initial information (Summers 2012).

The last sentence of that excerpt is of particular interest.  In order for an electoral process to be of high democratic quality, the citizenry who vote must be well-informed on the issues at hand and the qualities of the candidates.  If campaign ads only stimulated voter turnout, but didn’t increase the knowledge level of those voters, the quality of our democracy would be at risk.  Since that study found that campaign ads do indeed increase voter knowledge, it can be concluded that they are beneficial to the electoral process and our democracy as a whole.


Freedman, Paul, Michael Franz and Kenneth Goldstein.  2004.  “Campaign Advertising and Democratic Citizenship,” American journal of Political Science vol. 48, no. 4: 723-741.

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  “Campaign Advertising: The Downfall of Democracy?”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

So... How do they do it?

I have talked in previous blogs about the effect negative ads have on the electorate: they encourage participation.  I also explored the differences between positive ads and negative ones, both in terms of effect and magnitude of effect.  To recap: while positive ads can also be used to mobilize the electorate, negative ads are more effective in doing so.  That leads to an obvious question, how do negative ads encourage voter participation?  In my research I found several answers, below is an excerpt from that research:

In his study in 2004, Martin concluded that “Exposure to negative advertisement should encourage participation by heightening perceptions of public problems, making an election appear of greater importance, and thereby stimulating republican duty” (Martin 2004).  He went on to identify three mechanisms that are used by negative ads to motivate the electorate to participate: negative ads increase the voter’s want to fulfill their republican duty, they create the perception of a close election, and they increase the voter’s perception that the other candidate is a threat (Summers 2012).

Creating the perception of a close election is somewhat of a misleading argument.  Well, not misleading, but rather self-reinforcing.  Studies have shown that negative advertising (and campaign advertising in general) increases the closer the election becomes.  This seems rather obvious; if the election is a landslide with one candidate miles ahead of the rest, why spend enormous amounts of money on advertising?  So, a close election produces more negative ads which in turn creates the perception of a close election.  For you science majors, this is essentially a temporal causality loop.

Regardless of the science behind the argument, I think it is clear that negative ads stimulate the voter by increasing their awareness of a close election and thus portray the notion that the decision between the candidates is a critical one.  I look forward to your comments regarding that conclusion; in my next post I’ll be discussing the informational content of campaign advertising.  Some questions to simmer on: Are campaign ads more character attack driven than information driven?  Is it a bad thing if they are?


Martin, Paul S.  2004.  “Inside the Black Box of Negative Campaign Effects: Three Reasons Why Negative Campaigns Mobilize,” Political Psychology vol. 25, no. 4: 545-562.

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  “Campaign Strategy and Election Outcomes.”

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  “Literature Review.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Comments Considered

So I was originally going to blog today about how negative ads mobilize the electorate and encourage voter participation.  But after having read some of your comments it seems like the biggest point of contention is with the difference between positive and negative advertising.  For those who have not commented, or have not read the comments, many bloggers wanted to know if positive ads had an effect similar to that of negative ads.  In other words, do positive ads encourage voter participation like negative ads do?  If so, are they more or less effective in achieving voter mobilization than negative ads?

Of course, this was one of the first areas I wanted to explore once I solved the question of negative advertising.  It would seem that if positive ads were just as effective as negative ones then campaigns would focus more on using them.  Below is an excerpt from my literature review that deals with the question of positive/negative advertising:

While not the main focus of his study, Martin also found that negative ads were more effective in achieving mobilization than positive ones.  Using psychological research to substantiate his finding, Martin argued that negative information is privileged in memory, attention and judgment, thus making negative ads more persuasive than positive ones, (Martin, 2004 cited in Summers, 2012).  Martin’s findings regarding the effectiveness of negative ads were confirmed by a later study done by Phillips et. al. in 2008.  In agreement with Martin, that study found that, “Negative ads had a significant advantage over positive ads in reinforcing and increasing the commitment of voters who support the candidate sponsoring the ad,” (Phillips, Urbany and Reynolds, 2008).  The Phillips study does concede that negative ads may seem less effective considering they reinforce and increase the commitment of voters who already support the candidate, however they also found that instances where a negative ad changed the mind of an opposing voter were not uncommon (Phillips, Urbany and Reynolds, 2008).

Based on the research (and I will dive deeper into the psychology of the negative later), it would appear that negative ads are more effective and more memorable than positive ones.  From a practical perspective, this makes sense.  To illustrate the point, a pitcher in baseball probably can’t remember all of the strikes they threw in a season, but they can recall with explicit detail the home run they gave up to lose one game.

For my next post, I will talk about why negative ads encourage participation and mobilize the electorate.  I hope, at least for now, that I have satisfied some of the concerns regarding the difference between positive and negative advertising.


Martin, Paul S.  2004.  “Inside the Black Box of Negative Campaign Effects: Three Reasons Why Negative Campaigns Mobilize,” Political Psychology vol. 25, no. 4: 545-562.

Phillips, Joan M., Joel E. Urbany and Thomas J. Reynolds. 2008.  “Confirmation and the Effects of Valenced Political Advertising: A Field Experiement,” Journal of Consumer Research vol. 34, no. 6: 794-806.

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  “Campaign Strategy and Election Outcomes.”

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  "Literature Review."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Obama's Negative Campaign?

For this blog post I had originally planned on updating my research and answering some of the questions I posed in my last blog.  However, browsing the Internet earlier this week I found that the Romney camp posted a graph illustrating the campaign tone of his opponent, President Obama.

While I cannot attest to the accuracy of the information shown in the picture, I do think it shows the importance campaigns put on their overall tone.  In this case, the Romney campaign is attempting to show that President Obama is resorting to a negative attack campaign, which is contrary to what one of the President’s chief advisors (David Axelrod) stated last week.

One thing that is easy to see is the dramatic shift in tone from mostly positive to now mostly negative.  Only President Obama and his campaign team can know the exact reason for that switch, though some experts theorize that campaigns will switch tone dramatically if they feel they are being ineffective or if their campaign is in danger (Lecture by Dan Schnur, 2007).  One other important aspect in the graph is the dollar amount attributed to TV ads by the Obama camp.  With nearly $40 million spent by the Obama campaign on TV ads in just over two months, it is easy to see why campaign advertising is such a critical and controversial aspect of campaign politics. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Prelim Research Was Way Off

As with most research, just when you think you have reached your conclusion, you find something else that completely throws you in another direction.  In my last post I explored research that argued negative advertising demobilizes the electorate and discourages people from participating in politics.  As I dug a little deeper, I found a multitude of more recent studies that not only refuted the methodology and conclusions from those earlier studies, but in fact argued the complete opposite: negative ads actually mobilize the electorate, encouraging participation.

I summed up my findings in my literature review, below is another excerpt:

In 1999 Wattenberg and Brians replicated the experiments used by those earlier studies and found “that their aggregate study is deeply flawed and that Ansolabehere et al. exaggerated the demobilization dangers posed by attack advertising, at least in voters' own context,” (Wattenberg and Brians, 1999).  The Wattenberg study went even further, arguing that by making the choice between the candidates seem like an important one to the voter, negative ads actually motivate the voter to participate in the election (Wattenberg and Brians, 1999).  Wattenberg and Brians were some of the first to challenge the popular position that negative ads discourage voter participation, but their findings were confirmed by a later study performed by Goldstein and Freedman in 2002 who argue “by engaging voters, by raising interest, and by communicating the notion that something important is at stake in the outcome of an election, negative ads… should be more likely to stimulate than depress voter turnout,” (Goldstein and Freedman, 2002).

While I concede that this may not be the end of the story, it does seem that the recent studies of negative advertising overwhelmingly point to an increase in voter participation as a direct effect of negative ads.  Satisfied with that conclusion, I will now move to the "how" aspect of negative advertising.  If it does indeed encourage voter participation, how does it accomplish that?  Are negative ads more or less effective in encouraging participation than positive ones?  Look for the answers to these questions in my next blog.


Goldstein, Ken and Paul Freedman.  2002.  “Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect,” The Journal of Politics vol. 64, no. 3: 721-740.

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  “Literature Review.”

Wattenberg, Martin P. and Craig Leonard Brians. 1999.  “Negative Campaign Advertising: Demobilizer of Mobilizer?”  The American Political Science Review vol. 93, no. 4: 891-899.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Preliminary Research on Negative Ads

One of the first criticisms of negative attack advertising in political campaigns was that the notion that a negative attack ad would discourage the electorate from participating in the election.  The essential idea was that after seeing negative ads the voter would become turned off to the election process and thus not vote.  In 1998 and 1999 a group of political scientists went out to test that very theory.

As part of my literature review I explored their studies, here is an excerpt from that review:

One of the criticisms of negative campaign ads is that they discourage the electorate from voting and in some cases, discourage voters from participating in any kind of politics.  This critique was explored in the late 1990’s by a group of political scientists who eventually concluded, “Exposure to negative advertising creates an ‘avoidance’ set among viewers, which leaves them disengaged from the candidates and the political process,” (Houston and Roskos-Ewoldsen 1998; Houston, Doan, and Roskos-Ewoldsen 1999 cited in Ansolabehere, SIyengar and Simon, 1999).  That finding was further reinforced by the Ansolabehere study that found “the experimental, survey, and aggregate data converge on the same conclusion: Negative advertising demobilizes voters,” (Ansolabehere, SIyengar and Simon, 1999).

Based on my initial research, it would appear that negative ads do indeed demobilize voters, and would thus cost a candidate votes in an upcoming election.  If this is the case why would politicians, who spend millions of dollars on campaign advertising, promote and disseminate these negative ads among their voter base?  Perhaps there is much more to this story than what the initial research shows.

In my next post, we’ll be looking at more current research on negative advertising to see if it is consistent with the studies from the late 90’s.


Ansolabehere, Stephen D., Shanto Iyengar and Adam Simon.  1999.  “Replicating Experiments Using Aggregate and Survey Data: The Case of Negative Advertising and Turnout,” The American Political Science Review vol. 93, no. 4: 901-909.

Houston, D. A., and D. R. Roskos-Ewoldsen.  1998.  "Cancellation and Focus Model of Choice and Preferences for Political Candidates," Basic and Applied Social Psychology vol. 20: 305- 12.

Houston, D. A., K. A. Doan, and D. R. Roskos-Ewoldsen.  1999.  "Negative Political Advertising and Choice Conflict," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied vol. 5, no. 1: 3-16.

Summers, Matthew.  2012.  "Literature Review"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Negative Campaign Ads: The Downfall of Democracy?

Perhaps the most scrutinized area of campaign advertising is the negative attack ad.  This technique, which has become ubiquitous in campaign politics, has been at the forefront of criticism by experts, journalists and the American people alike.  Thus far, several accusations have been made about negative advertising, including: they discourage the electorate from voting in the election or even participating in the political process in general, the ads are personal attacks on the character of an opponent rather than being issue related, they destroy the quality of democracy in the US.

Important to my research will be the finding out what evidence exists to either support or refute those indictments.  For this section I will rely heavily on journal articles and data regarding the connection that exists between negative ad campaigns and voter turnout/attitude.  Before I summarize the results of that research (which will be posted in my next blog), I would like to pose a couple of questions to the blog audience and review your responses:

How do you feel when you see a negative campaign ad?  Do they ever change your opinion of the opponent or the candidate who sponsored the message?  Do you feel negative campaign advertising is a problem in US elections?  Has it gotten worse?  Has a negative campaign ad ever changed your vote?

I look forward to reading your responses and please don’t hesitate to ask any questions that you would like me to address regarding negative campaign advertising.

For an infamous example of negative campaign advertising, watch the clip below from Carly for California (skip to 2:20 to witness the "demon sheep").

Monday, July 9, 2012

Research Topic

Campaign and election dynamics have been at the forefront of political science research for decades.  With new polling information and advancements in research technology (most notably internet and computer resources), campaigns and elections will continue to be critiqued and examined through various lenses.  In this blog, we will be exploring a specific area of campaign politics: campaign advertising and messaging.  This blog will follow me (a student at USC) as I conduct research on this topic and develop arguments regarding the effects (both positive and negative) of campaign advertising and messaging on voter turnout and attitude.  Furthermore, I will broaden the scope of my research to include other academic disciplines: including psychology and sociology.  I will explore these other disciplines in the hope that they will shed more, or at least different, light on my topic.

In order to fully investigate the topic of campaign messaging and advertising it is critical to breakdown my research into several components.  First, my research will look into the overall effects of campaign advertising on vote share.  Questions I hope to answer will include: Does campaign advertising increase or decrease voter turnout?  Has campaign advertising increased over time?  Second, the effect of advertising on candidate quality and quantity will be examined.  Has the cost of political advertising increased over time and if so, has it eliminated or discouraged potential candidates from running?  Do some candidates have a competitive advantage given the current state of campaign advertising?  Finally, what difference (if any) exists in the effects of positive and negative campaign messaging?  This final area will include both voter turnout and voter attitude.  Does positive or negative advertising increase or decrease voter turnout?  Which one is more effective?  Does advertising affect voter attitude toward a candidate?  Does it change their vote?

I will hope to answer these questions and fully expect that my research will present several others.  In my next post I hope to have made at least some progress on my initial research.  Expect a summary of that preliminary research later this week.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In this blog we will be discussing campaign politics, more specifically, the dynamics of campaign messaging and advertising.