Negative Campaign Ads: Do They Work?

By KBJR News 1

September 19, 2012 Updated Sep 19, 2012 at 9:33 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - If you've watched any television lately, you've probably seen at least a few campaign ads. They're everywhere this time of year and often they're negative. But do those ads have any sway with voters?

It's true in races throughout the country, negative ads light up commercial breaks, but whether they fill the minds of voting TV viewers, that depends on the voter.

"It depends in part on the timing of the political ad. So when it's received," said University of Minnesota Duluth Communications Professor, Dr. Aaron Boyson, "We know for example from research that the later a campaign ad is run, for an undecided voter, the more work it does or the more influential it is."

According to University of Minnesota Duluth Communications Professor, Dr. Michael Pfau, it's in our nature to respond to the negative.

"Thousands of years ago we would avoid venomous snakes or insects," he said, "Now, we avoid potentially dangerous candidates. It may be that negative emotions or negatively balanced advertising appeals to part of our evolutionary heritage."

Dr. Boyson says that the "Third Person Effect" may explain why many people say the ads don't influence them.

"People tend to underestimate the influence that ads have on themselves and overestimate the effect the ads have on other people and that's the Third Person Effect," he said.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.