This, the first post-Citizens United American election, has been one long experiment with democracy. It’s too early to call any firm conclusions so far, and superPACs’ activities aren’t restricted to paying for advertising, but it’s becoming apparent that success cannot be measured purely in terms of the amount of money you can throw at the media.
They found that Obama’s ads were working to sway swing voters, while Romney’s were not—and the Koch Brothers-backed GOP super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, didn’t help Romney either.
The study exposed 2,300 voters to Romney and Obama ads on three themes—Medicare, economic plans, and economy-based attacks on the other candidate—as well as the Americans for Prosperity ad, “Disappointed.” A control group didn’t see any ads. All the respondents were either pure independents or weak partisans; none were strong Democrats or Republicans.
Obama’s ads overall had the desired effect: They increased his share of the vote by six points while decreasing Romney’s share of the vote by 8 points on average. Romney’s ads, meanwhile, had no statistically significant effect on the survey respondents. The survey sample began the experiment favoring Romney by a 47-42 margin; after watching both candidates’ ads, they favored Obama, 48-41.
This may go some way toward explaining the split that national pollsters are finding between the north and the south, where it looks like Romney’s winning hard in the Republicans’ southern heartland, but not so much in the swing states:
There was a silver lining for Romney, however. His ads didn’t convert swing voters, but they did persuade voters who picked John McCain in 2008 to vote for Romney this time around. Obama’s ads had no impact on his supporters’ enthusiasm.
In fact, some of these ads may be backfiring:
As for the super PAC [AFP], with friends like these, Romney may not need enemies. The Americans for Prosperity ad features testimonials from Obama voters who say the president has let them down. The study found it had no effect on the vote overall and actually hurt Romney with women voters. The only positive effect of the ad was a large increase in enthusiasm among males who voted for McCain in 2008. “Surprisingly, the ‘Disappointed’ ad is terrible as a soft-edged appeal to swing voters, but seems to be very effective red meat for male voters in Romney’s base,” the study notes.
When it comes to Web ads, the aims are different. Obviously there’s a hope that some will go viral and peel off some undecideds via social media etc., but generally they’re aimed at bolstering the base and helping GOTV efforts. With ads of the quality of this one doing the rounds, we’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out: