theme ads can prime reactions to other related issues
ads don't just annoy or disgust the average American. Research has shown
they also influence these voters.
State University speech communication professors William Schenck-Hamlin,
pictured top, and David Procter, pictured middle, have studied negative
advertisements for many years. For their latest study, they joined with
assistant professor of speech communication LeAnn Brazeal, pictured bottom.
all of our research we've been looking at a broader context than just
what about negative ads is likely to have an impact on whether a candidate
wins or loses an election," Schenck-Hamlin said. "We're more
interested in the broad social consequences of negative ads. Is it causing
people to become more cynical about political office? What about negative
ads gives rise to cynicism?"
you say you just don't pay attention to those negative ads
many people say they don't pay any attention to negative ads, they
are actually a major factor governing voting choices, Schenck-Hamlin
example, President George W. Bush's first ads, which came out in
April, contained the message that John Kerry was a "waffler"
on the issues.
that's the No. 1 thing people say about Kerry," Procter said.
"If they have any concerns about Kerry at all, that's the No.
1 thing." Even members of his own party don't rate Kerry very
high on having a strong stand on the issues, while Republicans strongly
support Bush in this area.
"real power" of negative advertisements, Brazeal said,
is that they also get picked up by the media. And even if the media
is critical of an ad, all the viewers remember is the ad itself,
not the criticism.
attributes this power to the fact that ads are very well written.
simple, they're to the point, they make a claim, there's no noise
about the claim whatsoever, there are no conditions on it, there
even appears to be 'evidence' there," he said. "I think
in the end, the messages take hold because it's a simple, clear
message -- a claim that's been repeated that people can recall fairly
by Procter and Schenck-Hamlin have found a particular type of negative
ad that tends to induce cynicism -- those ads in which a negative theme
surrounds the character of a particular candidate, rather than those that
focus on a particular issue. It's when, for example, an ad calls a candidate
a "tax-and-spend liberal" or an "anti-environmentalist."
When the ads attach labels rather than focus on an issue, cynicism really
spikes, Procter said.
the current study, the K-State professors looked at another societal consequence
of negative ads.
hypothesized that these thematic negative ads, about, say, 'tax-and-spend
liberals' and education, will prime people's attitudes about government
spending in other contexts," Procter said. "The impact of negative
ads on this one campaign will really filter into the judgments these voters
make on other kinds of issues that have something to do with government
study involved the issue of curbside recycling, which has been an often-debated
topic in Manhattan, Kan., where K-State is located.
participants view six ads -- either two, four or six of these ads were
attacks on a 'tax-and-spend liberal.' The other ads involved concern with
environmental issues (none of which dealt directly with recycling). They
then asked the participants if they were in favor of curbside recycling
and how much they'd be willing to spend to make it a reality in their
were betting that as the dosage of negative ads to tax-and-spend liberals
increased, the participants would be less likely to be in favor of curbside
recycling," Schenck-Hamlin said.
wanted to see if there's a threshold where all of a sudden the effects
kick in," Procter said of the varied 'dosage' of negative advertisements
they gave the participants. "Second, we believe over the broad historical
time in politics, there is an ever-increasing percentage of negative ads,
so it makes sense to give subjects a pretty healthy dose of negative ads."
advertisements and the 2004 Presidential election
advertisements have changed over the years, especially in regard
to who's presenting them.
of the most fascinating things to me about ads these days is --
partly because of changes in campaign finance law and partly because
candidates are sensitive about being associated with negative ads
-- increasingly you see political interest groups running their
ads -- and these ads tend to be very negative," he said. MoveOn.org
is one such political interest group, also known as 527 groups from
their IRS code, in the current election that has been running "some
pretty tough ads against George W. Bush," Procter said. Labor
unions have also taken to the air, commenting on President Bush's
economic policies, and others on his Iraq war policies.
interesting thing is that these groups are not favoring candidates
in their ads, only opposing them," said William Schenck-Hamlin,
professor of speech communication.
are literally no limits to the amount of money voters can contribute
to 527 groups and the reason they are allowed to have unlimited
contributions is that they don't take a position on the candidates.
Instead, these groups take a position on the issues.
never say, 'Vote against President Bush,' and they never say 'Vote
for John Kerry,'" Procter said. "They just say, 'George
Bush's policies on the economy are disastrous. If you agree, call
the Bush campaign.'"
said to distinguish between these and actual ads from the candidate's
camps, look for the candidate saying they approve the ad; this is
required by law for ads directly sponsored by a candidate's campaign.
features to watch for when viewing negative advertisements:
are typically used for the voiceovers, because it's seen as "softer,"
said LeAnn Brazeal, assistant professor of speech communication.
The candidate never does the attacking, and is rarely seen in the
ad -- they try to remove themselves as far as possible from the
and white is used often in negative ads with newspaper clippings,
headlines, editorial excerpts.
times the ad characterizes what a bill does and says the other candidate
voted against this bill. But Brazeal said most of the time there's
something else in the bill the candidate didn't agree with rather
than the overall idea of the bill. Or they may have voted against
the bill as part of a political compromise with another legislator.
lot of time people don't understand how politics run in Congress,"