Negative Campaign Ads Have A Lasting Impact On Voters, According To Two Uga Researchers

February 22, 2001

ATHENS, Ga. — Negative campaign ads can be an effective tool for delivering messages. Two faculty members at the University of Georgia found that the impact of negative campaign ads persists and even increases over time, instead of decreasing.

An article they published on that research, The Sleeper Effect and Negative Political Advertising, was recently named “Best Article in the Journal of Advertising in 1999” by the American Academy of Advertising (AAA). Dr. Ruth Ann Weaver Lariscy and Dr. Spencer F. Tinkham, members of the faculty of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will receive the award and a cash prize and plaque at the Academys annual conference in March 2001 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“The research award reaffirms Dr. Lariscy and Dr. Tinkham’s nationally prominent research stream on political advertising and communication. By all measures, they are at the forefront of their field,” said Dr. Dean M. Krugman, professor and head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations.

The researchers studied the reactions of registered voters to a fictitious political ad campaign. More than 300 volunteers were shown a 30-second political attack ad for an imaginary politician running for government office in Kentucky. The participants were split into three groups which were shown different possible responses to the attack ad. The first group was shown no response. The second group was shown a defensive response ad before seeing the attack ad. The third group was shown a defensive response after seeing the attack ad.

Immediately following the viewing, the researchers asked the participants two questions to gauge the effectiveness of the attack ads. The first question was For whom would you vote if the election were held today? And How certain are you of this decision? To gauge delayed response to the ads, two-thirds of the participants were called later and asked the same questions. It was then that the researchers found that the negative ads had a lasting impact.

The results indicated that not only are attack ads initially effective, the impact of the ads increases over time. If there is a quick defensive response by the attackers opponent, the attack ad will eventually still be effective. Even if the attacker is viewed negatively by the audience, over time the attack ads still have an impact on viewer preference.

Positive response ads are not effective in countering attack ads, Larisy and Tinkham found. While these ads may bolster the evaluation of the attacked candidate, they are less powerful than the attack ad, they wrote.

“The Sleeper Effect” was nominated by research reviewers from all articles published in the Journal of Advertising during 1999. The final vote was made by the JOAs Review Board.

“The Journal of Advertising is the top journal in the field of advertising research,” said Dr. Marla R. Stafford, chair of JOAs Publication Committee. “This award indicates that their research is the best of the best.” Lariscy is associate professor of public relations. She earned a Ph.D. in political communication from the University of Missouri and joined the Grady College faculty in 1988. Lariscy’s research focuses on political advertising and campaign management, public relations standards and health campaigns. She has authored numerous articles appearing in journals including Political Communication, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Health Communication and Current Issues and Research in Advertising. She has also served as an expert witness on negative advertising and as a consultant to the restaurant and health care industries.

Tinkham, professor of advertising, earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Illinois. His research focuses on political communication, particularly with respect to message and audience factors in persuasion, and has appeared in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research and Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. Prior to joining the Grady College faculty in 1981, Tinkham taught at Columbia University, the University of Illinois and the University of Florida. He has also served as a consultant and professional trainer for seminars sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agencies.