This is a guest post from political scientist John Geer, who runs the Vanderbilt/YouGov Ad Rating Project. More on the ad is at that link.
The Obama campaign released an ad this week that used Big Bird to attack Mitt Romney. It was a limited “ad buy.” It was a spot more aimed at getting attention from the press than influencing voters. Even so, what kind of reactions did the public have to the ad? Did it influence opinions through use of a big yellow bird? There has been lots of speculation in the press. But rather than guessing, we have some data. Specifically, the Vanderbilt/YouGov Ad Rating Project offers some answers to these questions. We showed the ad to a representative sample of 600 Americans right after it hit the airwaves. The results are now in.
This spot did not move the attitudes of Americans toward Romney and Obama. Two days earlier, the Ad Project examined the public’s reactions to another attack ad of Obama—one making use of the now famous “47%” comment by Romney. Following exposure to both of these negative ads from Obama, 50% of the public had a favorable view of Obama and 41% rated Romney favorably. There was no difference between the effects of two ads. And if you compare these effects to the other 20 ads we have examined, Big Bird did not look very different on most indicators. Now Americans did view the “Big Bird” ad as a little less believable than past attack ads and fewer Americans expressed “anger” toward the ad, probably reflecting the tongue-in-cheek aspect to it. But these are not big differences.
There appears, however, to be one important effect. Yellow may now be the new blue. That is, the ad appears to have generated a partisan divide on evaluations of Big Bird himself! Consider than 85% of Democrats held a favorable rating of Big Bird. Only 55% of Republicans held that view. If we just look at Romney and Obama voters, the story is much the same. Of Obama voters, 88% liked Big Bird. Among Romney supporters, 56% indicated favorable ratings of Big Bird. Now, of course, we do not have a baseline about opinions toward Big Bird prior to this ad being aired. But one is hard pressed to imagine that there was a 30-point gap in feelings toward Big Bird.
Needless to say, these results are sure to ruffle some feathers. But it seems that the polarization of the country has now gone beyond Wall Street and Main Street. It has now hit Sesame Street.