The science of
Do all those clichéd images
of happy children and
American flags actually sway
voters? Yes, but perhaps not
in the way you’d expect,
BY SADIE DINGFELDER
Tired of political ads? The positive ones with unfurling flags and smiling children? The negative ones with grainy images of opponents? Well, gird yourself.
Campaigns will spend upward of $3 billion on broadcast
television ads for the 2012 presidential, congressional and
gubernatorial elections, a record-breaking amount, according to
Moody’s Investment Services.
With this much money on the line, you might assume
that media consultants know what works and what doesn’t.
However, they rarely pay attention to burgeoning research by
psychologists and other social scientists who are exploring
whether the images and emotions evoked by campaign ads
actually sway voters, researchers say.
“Consultants obviously have good intuition, especially if
they are experienced, and some of them even pay attention to
the psychology and political science literature, but I think they
are the minority,” says Ted Brader, PhD, a political psychology
professor at the University of Michigan.
But increasingly, smart campaign consultants are reading
studies and even collaborating with researchers, says Donald
Green, PhD, a political science professor at Columbia University
who collaborated with the 2006 Rick Perry gubernatorial
campaign in Texas to conduct groundbreaking studies of
political advertising. “Both sides are looking for an edge, and