Five Myths about Campaign Advertising

1. Negative ads are more effective than positive ones.
2. Campaign ads are uninformative.
3. Less-informed voters are more easily swayed by ads.
4. A candidate should respond to an attack ad with a counterattack on the same issue.
5. News organizations neutralize misleading ads by fact-checking them.

These are from an article by University of Michigan political scientist Ted Brader in the Washington Post as part of their “five myths” series. In the article, Brader expands on each of these point and include links to a wide-variety of political science research. This is a great resource both for journalists wishing to write about advertisements in the coming campaign who want a quick link to relevant political science research, as well as for any of you who may be lecturing about campaign advertising in the near future.

The full article is available here and will also be in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.

2 Responses to Five Myths about Campaign Advertising

  1. Foster July 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    ” This is a great resource… “


    No, it’s mostly idle opinion and hot-air… with zero objective proof presented to support it.

    For example, we learn that MYTH # 4 :
    ” A candidate should respond to an attack ad with a counterattack on the same issue.”

    … is not myth at all, because: “In some cases, such a response may make sense; in others, it is precisely the wrong thing to do. “

    How can #4 be a general myth when it’s the right thing to do in some cases — but precisely the wrong thing to do in other cases (??) {according to Ted Brader, Political Scientist}

    That ain’t any kind of science, nor even common sense thinking. Mr Brader embraces a personal logic in which myths can simultaneously be true & non-true.

    • Ted Brader July 22, 2012 at 10:41 am #

      Hi Foster,

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the civil tone.

      In fact, you turn out to be quite mistaken. Much of the column is based on scientific evidence across hundreds of studies, conducted by hundreds of scholars. It reflects several important things (though hardly everything) we know about campaign ads and political communication more generally, based on the best available (and, yes, objective) evidence. The Washington Post generously agreed to provide links to a small number of these studies in the online version; they’re only the start, but they’d get you started. Perhaps you missed the links. However, if you’d like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to check out these and other sources online or at a library near you. It’s a healthy way to dispel what you call “idle opinion and hot air.”

      As for Myth 4, it is quite easy and logical. The myth, quite prevalent in the political advertising biz and among lots of “observers” of politics, is that you should always respond with a counterattack. If there are some cases where that is not a good idea, then the belief/claim must indeed be mistaken (or a “myth”). Now, this may have been clearer to you had the myth statement in the column included the word “always” (I don’t recall if that was dropped in editing, or simply never there). But, even so, the “always” is implied because, as written, the sentence allows for no exceptions or limitations.

      Best wishes and happy reading,

      Ted Brader