Each election cycle we get news stories about campaign ads, particularly negative ads, and their role in elections. University of Michigan prof Ted Brader has done a good job of addressing some of the more common myths about campaign advertising:
1. Negative ads are more effective than positive ones. And of course, vice versa, which is something I’ve talked about before here and here. Prof Bader also makes a good point about the diversity of ads (ads aren’t just negative or positive - usually a mix of both). The type of ad one uses and its topic has more impact on voters than whether the ads is positive or negative (Source).
2. Campaign ads are uninformative. It’s a constant theme that political ads are banal, nasty, etc. and don’t tell the voters anything. One of the reasons I like “negative” ads is that they are usually more informative, and you also have contrast ads. Prof Bader makes two good points here: 1) ads boost name recognition at the very least and 2) ads provide voters with information about the policy differences between candidates that media outlets rarely cover.
3. Less-informed voters are more easily swayed by ads. This is something I have seen expressed on Twitter with regards to the Texas Senate race, and of course, it’s not true. Political psychology doesn’t just affect the uninformed and uneducated - see Drew Westen’s The Political Brain.
4. A candidate should respond to an attack ad with a counterattack on the same issue. This is a more nuanced myth; it may occasionally be necessary to pursue this strategy, but the myth is that one should always respond on the same issue. It’s better to stay on message.
5. News organizations neutralize misleading ads by fact-checking them. Fact-checking can provide some useful information, and in other cases, they’re kind of ridiculous. Regardless, partisans will generally dismiss or accept fact-checks depending on whether they fit the partisan’s beliefs.