Thursday, January 17, 2008

More on Negative Ads

See this press release on research about negative ads and how, according to Goldstein in his book, they actually help democracy by informing the public.

I kinda agree, in part because advertising shows up in entertainment fare, reaching an audience largely tuned out of news, and the negative nature is more memorable than soft fuzzy friendly ads.

Some scholars argue that advertising may be the only way to reach large segments of a disconnected, indifferent public. A negative ad on such quality programming as Dancing with the Stars, for example, may go a long way.

Of course this raises the question of whether anyone who watches Dancing with the Stars (or American Idol) should be allowed to vote.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Negative Ads and What People Know

Those negative advertisements that every voter hates and every candidate uses are said to be effective. "We don't like them," goes the standard line, "but they work."

Think again, according to a careful meta-analysis of the literature:

To state the matter bluntly: There is no consistent evidence in the research literature that negative political campaigning “works” in achieving the electoral results that attackers desire. Although attacks probably do undermine evaluations of the candidates they target, they usually bring evaluations of the attackers down even more, and the net effect on vote choice is nil.

That's a helluva finding, but I doubt you'll see a sudden end to negative ads. We're addicted to them. They energize the base, they provide conversation fodder. They give the talking heads on the boob tube something to talk about.

The results on political knowledge are more consistent, with 11 of 15 studies showing that negative ads increase what people know about a campaign. I'm not sure that's good news, but it is something. This reminds me of the knowledge gap literature, which in part finds that controversy spurs learning. Negative ads get attention, which increases knowledge.

But, according to this study, they simply don't persuade.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Knowing the Court

When looking at what people know, we can explore lots of areas. The usual one is public affairs, but it's also important to understand what people know about lots of other domains.

For example, the courts. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court. The author puts it well:

Two of the findings of this research run strongly counter to existing understandings of public knowledge of law and courts. First, these respondents demonstrate relatively high levels of information about the Supreme Court. To our knowledge, few prior studies have documented this level of information about the Court. We contend that this finding is in part a function of the method by which knowledge is measured, and we are consequently critical of most earlier efforts to document what citizens know about the Supreme Court. When citizens are asked reasonable questions about what they understand about the Supreme Court, most can answer accurately.

As I've mentioned before, it's often how we measure knowledge that matters most. Previous surveys and studies done by damn smart people tend to overestimate the public's lack of knowledge because of the way we ask questions.

In conclusion, the author writes:

Certainly there is little in these data to suggest that the views of the American citizenry are too ill-informed to be worthy of any serious consideration, both from the political process and from scholars of the judiciary. It seems that the American people may know enough about law and courts to be able to perform their assigned function as constituents of the contemporary judicial system in the U.S.

I would note that the data suggest a small decline in accuracy about the Supreme Court from 2001 to 2005. About 74 percent in 2001 correctly knew justices are appointed. About 65 percent knew it in 2005. Same is true for a couple of other knowledge questions.

And the old recognition versus recall issue is seen, with recognition proving superior at tapping what people know about the Court. I won't go into the r vs r debate. See my other posts.

What's missing here, for me, is media. I'd love to see how people to watch a lot of court programs or the news differ in these results. Alas, this is not to be seen.

A summary to the study is here. Scroll down and click any option to get a pdf of the study.