Predicting Voters' Beliefs About Negative Ads

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The 2012 presidential election was a record-breaking campaign for the number of negative political TV ads aired, particularly in swing states such as North Carolina. While there have been numerous studies of exposure to political advertising, there has been much less attention paid to how the public perceives such advertising, particularly in today's era of intensifying negativity. Thus, this study closely examines a broad range of voters' attitudes toward negative campaign ads. We conducted a dual-frame (landline and cellphone) random-digit-dialing survey of 605 registered voters in "battleground" North Carolina during the 2012 campaign. The study used multivariate analyses to examine voters' perceptions of and opinions about the appropriateness, utility, and usefulness of the information in negative political ads; predictors of voters' attitudes toward the ads and belief that negative ads have a greater effect on "third-person" others (the TPE); and the relation of third-person perceptions to belief that such ads should be limited or outlawed. Previous studies found that the TPE's "behavioral consequences" include support for regulation of controversial commercial advertising, offensive music, pornography, and violent television. While effects of the TPE on support for regulation of negative political advertising have been mixed, TPE has not been examined within the contemporary political advertising context characterized as the most negative in memory, or in the context of individuals' beliefs about how negative political advertising will influence all-important undecided voters. This study furthers scholars' understanding of voters' attitudes toward negative political advertising and predictors of those attitudes. It also extends the existing TPE literature to examine how beliefs about the effects of negative political ads on undecided voters influences beliefs that those ads should be regulated.


Lisa Farman (Barnard)


Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research (MAPOR)


Chicago, IL

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