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Uncovering the persuasive effects of presidential advertising

Greg Huber spoke on this last week. Here’s the paper, and here’s the abstract:

Do presidential campaign advertisements mobilize, inform, or persuade citizens? To answer this question we exploit a natural experiment, the accidental treatment of some individuals living in non-battleground states during the 2000 presidential election to high levels or one-sided barrages of campaign advertisements simply because they lived in a media market adjoining a competitive state. . . . In contrast to previous research, we find little evidence that citizens are mobilized by or learn from presidential advertisements, but strong evidence that they are persuaded by them. . . . Our research suggests that political advertising functions, in part, like propaganda, rather than as a purely benign source of information.

I don’t have anything to add right now on the substance of this paper: the methods seem reasonable and the result is plausible. My only comment is about the discussion after the talk: several people (incluidng me) asked why it was considered surprising that advertising persuades. Huber responded that, in the specialized academic literature on political advertising, there has been a consensus in favor of the view (false, in Huber’s estimation) that political advertising mobilizes but does not persuade. This seems like one of these cases where the less sophisticated view is more correct than the subfield experts’. Why can this be? For one thing, the experts may have too much of an investment in their particular theoretical framework.

I have noticed something similar in the voting power literature, where the experts in this subfield basically have it all wrong (for extended discussion of this point, see our BJPS article). I really have no idea how to communicate with the “voting power” people: their whole set of assumptions is so flawed, but I feel that they can’t really hear what I’m saying (even if they were to listen; another difficulty, as far as I can tell, is getting people to notice). But political scientists outside of this subfield don’t really take voting power very seriously (that’s an appropriate attitude, actually).

Also, a couple of little comments on the Huber and Arceneaux paper:

Figure 1 is hard to read. It would be better to have a 4 x 2 grid of plots, with a different media market in each row. Also, define “GRPs/1000” in the figure caption.

FIgure 2 is almost ok except: (a) get rid of the horizontal lines (except at 0), (b) y-axes should just go from -.3 to .3 (currently, the graphs have unnecessary white space), (c) repeating the scales on the x-axes is just weird–it would be better to just have 2 overlain lines per graph, (3) get rid of those horizontal segments at the end of the error bars.

The tables should all be graphs.

One Comment

  1. Carlos Torres V. says:

    I have been reading your reviews of previous Kanazawa's papers and I think you will find interesting hist latest one that has created a big row within the London School of Economics community:

    "Mind the gap… in intelligence: Re-examining the relationship between inequality and health".
    British Journal of Health Psychology (2006), 11, 623-642.

    There he says people live longer in wealthier and more egalitarian societies not because of that but because people are more intelligent there.

    Theoretical and methodological problems are all around. Even using his numbers, once controlling for subsaharan Africa, his findings result spurious.

    Hope you'll enjoy it.

    Carlos Torres Vitolas
    Phd student – Sociology dept.