An aggregate examination of the backlash effect in political advertising: The case of the 1996 senate race in Minnesota
This reading explains the “dual effects” of negative political information targeted at the public, and tries to find out the intended and unintended effects of negative advertising during a political campaign. Politicians spend significant amount of money on advertising during campaigns to garner support from the voters. These advertisements can be positive (where the ad makes good of the politician) or negative (where the ad fires other politician).
In this reading, two politicians are involved – Wellstone and Boschwitz. Boschwitz’s favourability dropped while Wellstone’s favourability remained. Some explanation for this would include the fact that there has been negative information about Boschwitz in advertisements sponsored by Wellstone. However, in such situations, there can be a backlash, where the negative information will hurt the sponsor of the ad instead of the targeted politician.
Two main forms of advertising that play a significant role in influencing voters’ decision are television broadcast and news coverage. Most consultants think that providing negative information always works. Research has shown that negative notions works better than positive notions when creating impressions.
Intended effects of negative advertising aims to invoke negative feelings from the voters to the target politician. On the contrary, unintended effects of negative advertising are those that hurt the sponsors unexpectedly. As such, negative information in political advertising is a double-edged sword. The effect of negative information would depend on the sources of the message. For example, positive advertising messages from Boschwitz could favour him; negative advertising messages from Boschwitz targeted at Wellstone would result in a backlash, thus affecting his favourability.
The intended effects model and the intended plus backlash effects model were tested. Findings are as per below:
- Positive information about Boschwitz increased his favourability.
- Negative information caused a drop in the public’s favourability ratings of Boschwitz.
- The impact of negative information is four times greater than the impact of positive information.
Granted, these findings have their own limitations, one being the fact that they are based on a single case study. However, it acts as a good gauge for the impact that negative advertising messages can have on a politician. Also, the credibility of the source and its persuasiveness has a linear relationship. On top of it all, the number of advertisements can affect how voters feel about the politician – the more ads they see, the more they detest the politician.
Points to think about:
- Do you think that adding humour into political ads will help the politician or cause a backlash?
- What are some of the effective methods that have been used in Singapore to gain voters’ favourability?
Jasperson A. E. & Fan D. P. (2002). An aggregate examination of the backlash effect in political advertising: The case of the 1996 senate race in Minnesota. Journal of Advertising, 31, 1-12.