Do negative campaign ads really serve a purpose?
“People will be more likely to appreciate and vote for the candidate who is sponsoring the negative advertisement if the ad is presented in a spaced-out manner, over time,” Fernandes said. “A candidate who doesn’t have a large budget for political advertising can use the same advertising over and over again, but in a way that is more strategic.”
In the study, university students participated in two separate tests. First, 150 participants watched the repetition of a 30-second negative political ad of candidates the participants didn’t know (one, three, or five exposures). The ads were presented sequentially, characterizing the presentation as “massive.” According to the results, the participants were most likely to vote for the candidate when they saw the ad three times, and least likely to vote for them when they saw it five times.
In the second test, 306 university students watched advertisements for unknown candidates within a 30-minute television program, with varying time intervals between ad repetitions. Afterwards, participants filled out questionnaires to evaluate the sponsor and the attacked candidates as well as the likelihood of voting for them.
According to the results, when there is a larger time intervals between ad repetitions, viewers were more likely to favor the candidate sponsoring the ad and more likely to dislike the candidate the ad chastised. This was true even with increased repetition, suggesting that the sponsor candidate can avoid the backlash effect by allowing larger time intervals between ad exposures.
“In my study, I show that negative political ads do work under certain conditions,” Fernandes said. “I think they can help the political process because people can look at some facts, process the information more carefully, and later on — when people cast their votes — they can make an informed decision.”
Fernandes said she plans further investigations in the future, including what happens when there are repeated negative and positive political ads and when there are negative ads sponsored by opposing candidates. She would also like to analyze the possible effects of individual variables, such as gender and party affiliation.