Voter Mobilization

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Do Negative Campaign Ads Mobilize or Demobilize voters?

The rise of negative campaign ads have had a dramatic effect on political

campaigns and have given rise to the debate of whether or not negative ads or attack

ads mobilize voters or do these ads demobilize the American electorate? Negative

campaign ads through the stimulation hypothesis have an invigorating effect on the

electorate and in fact mobilize voters (Martin). The study of Ansolabehere and Iyengar

in 1995 on campaign advertisement which attempted to prove that negative ads

demobilize voters is in fact flawed and can be disputed. There is no evidence in fact that

negative advertising depresses voter turnout, but in fact it increases voter turnout

through stimulation as a result of these negative ads (Martin). The analysis and

experiments of the below political scientists will show that in fact the argument put forth

by Iyengar and Ansolabehere is flawed and that in fact negative campaign ads stimulate

voters and create a greater voter turnout in elections (Wattenberg, and Brians 891-899).

Supporters of the demobilization hypothesis claim that negative ads undermine

political efficacy and make it less likely that citizens will vote (Martin). Ansolabehere and

Iyengar, supporters of the demobilization hypothesis, created a number of experiments

on a set of California elections as well as a study of the turnout in the 1992 senate

elections to examine the effect television commercials have and how negative

campaign commercials influence voter participation. In their belief, negative attack ads

demobilize the electorate and create a lower probability of voting amongst citizens

(Martin). This study as done by Ansolabehere and Iyengar did support the idea that

negative campaign ads provided information to citizens but it still decreased voter

turnout. The studies found that subjects who were shown a single negative

advertisement claimed that they would be less likely to vote and had negative attitudes

towards government. If these same subjects were shown a positive advertisement, the

effect was reversed in their experiment. The difference between effects of positive and

negative ads was roughly 5% (Wattenberg, and Brians 891-899). These claims became

greatly scrutinized following their experiment. To follow up on their experiment, they

used an analysis or campaign tone on aggregate voter turnout and vote roll-off in the

1992 senate elections (Wattenberg, and Brians 891-899).

This study was done without taking into consideration the effect that education of

citizens had on voting. The more educated a citizen was, the more likely they were to

vote, which in turn questions the validity of the study because this was not considered

amongst the test subjects (Martin). Also, these results were not replicated with further

similar experiments, which does not provide a stable amount of information to base the

claims upon.

Negative campaigns may be somewhat of a guilty pleasure for Americans- they

claim to dislike them, but inadvertently are drawn to them in much the same way that

shoppers find themselves drawn to the tabloids in the checkout aisle (Martin). One issue

with many of these survey-based studies is that no accurate measurement of exposure

to advertising has been created. Freedman and Goldstein conducted a study in which

they were able to survey citizens about when they typically watch television and then

measure how much advertisement they were actually exposed to. Once they were able

to measure this following their survey in 1999, it could be determined that exposure to

negative attack ads actually increases voter turnout. These negative advertisements

may in fact stimulate voters as opposed to turn them off from political participation.

Negative advertising provides potential voters with a significant amount or relevant...
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