Complaints about “negative” campaign ads are reaching a fever pitch these days, but Iowa State University political science professor Dianne Bystrom doesn’t expect the ads to dampen voter turn-out.
“There’s been a number of studies that have been done on the effects of negative advertising on voter turn-out and while there’s a mixed record, the majority of studies have found that there’s absolutely either no effect on turn-out because of negative ads or, in some cases, there actually is a bigger turn-out effect because of negative advertising,” she says.
The campaign ads of the 2012 campaign season have emphasized the differences between the two major political parties. “And then those clear choices do remind people of why they’re a Democrat, why they’re a Republican and what’s at stake in this election,” Bystrom says.
Many public opinion polls try to gauge voter “intensity” — another way of measuring whether a potential voter will turn out to be an actual voter. “Of course we all say that we hate negative ads,” Bystrom says. “But there’s been a lot of experimental studies that show negative advertising evokes strong emotions in voters.”
Bystrom is teaching a class in “campaign rhetoric” this semester, with a recent focus on the advertising that’s airing on Iowa radio and television stations. She says a recent analysis found over 70 percent of the presidential campaign ads running these days are considered negative.