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The Ad War Experiment: Mitt Romney, the Enthusiasm Candidate?

The results are public!

It turns out that Mitt Romney is the enthusiasm candidate, and Barrack Obama is the vote-shifting candidate. 

Definitely didn’t expect that one, and neither did Ricochet readers! (genferei is the only one to nail it). Polling since the debate has added support to our conclusions, generally showing very small or no shifts in the vote preference of all registered voters, but big shifts in enthusiasm, translating into better margins after a likely voter screen. (Pew is the one exception, showing a big shift in the vote. It does seem to be an outlier, however.)

Evolving Strategies and Qualtrics conducted the most comprehensive test of Presidential advertising impacts on swing voters to date, measuring the impact of seven television ads aired by both candidates in their Presidential campaigns were tested in a double-blind, fully controlled PocketTrial™ experiment on more than 2,300 weak partisans and pure independents. 

By using statistics to compare outcomes in the “treatment” groups to the control group, we can identify which ads really impact the vote and other measures. Respondents aren’t asked which ad they like or think is effective; instead, we measure the true effect of the ad on respondents.

We tested the individual and combined impact of matched Obama and Romney ads from three “themes,” 1) Medicare ads, 2) Economic Attack ads, and 3) Comprehensive, economic-focused “Plan” ads. In addition, we tested 4) the impact of the “Disappointed” ad from Americans for Prosperity, which has been highly rated in focus groups and received heavy air time.

So which side is winning the Presidential Ad War? It depends on how much enthusiasm matters compared to marginal vote shifts this year (see more in the full report).

The Obama ads have a significant impact on vote preference, increasing Obama’s vote and decreasing Romney’s. The Romney ads aren’t effective in shifting preferences.

  • Obama’s ads increase his vote by about 6 points on average – a 15% bump in Obama’s vote

  • They decrease Romney’s vote by about 8 points – an 18% slide in Romney’s vote.
  • Round 1 to Obama: Obama ads increase the percentage of marginal undecided and wavering voters who prefer him.

The twist . . . both the Romney and Obama ads are effective at increasing enthusiasm among likely Romney voters (McCain voters from 2008). The Obama ads don’t significantly impact the enthusiasm of ’08 Obama voters. 

  • Romney and Obama ads increase the highest level of voter enthusiasm of ’08 McCain voters by 13 points – a 42% surge in the number of McCain ’08 voters who are extremely enthusiastic to vote this year.

  • Enthusiasm for ’08 Obama voters remains flat.
  • Round 2 to Romney: Romney ads impact marginal, decided voters, increasing the likelihood that voters who say they prefer him will actually turn out to vote.

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  1. Adam Schaeffer
    C

    I need to give major credit to genferei, the one reader to guess the results! And not just get it right, but with a very interesting and plausible explanation . . . Many thanks to everyone, though, for the thought-exercise!

    genferei: Who is the enthusiasm candidate, Romney or Obama? Romney

    Who is the vote-shifting candidate, Romney or Obama? Obama

    And why do you think one or the other? Because Romney is pushing against the unbroken MSM narrative for the last 4 years, and Obama is pushing with it. Romney’s ads elicit enthusiasm from those who have already seen through the fog of disinformation – they are enthused to see the truth on ‘television’ at last. Obama’s ads shift the undecided (ignorant) voters into his camp because they echo the MSM’s prejudices that these information-poor (or pathologically dithering) folks have absorbed despite themselves. 

  2. Mollie Hemingway
    Adam Schaeffer: I need to give major credit to genferei, theone reader to guess the results! And not just get it right, but with a very interesting and plausible explanation . . . Many thanks to everyone, though, for the thought-exercise!

    genferei: Who is the enthusiasm candidate, Romney or Obama? Romney

    Who is the vote-shifting candidate, Romney or Obama? Obama

    And why do you think one or the other? Because Romney is pushing against the unbroken MSM narrative for the last 4 years, and Obama is pushing with it. Romney’s ads elicit enthusiasm from those who have already seen through the fog of disinformation – they are enthused to see the truth on ‘television’ at last. Obama’s ads shift the undecided (ignorant) voters into his camp because they echo the MSM’s prejudices that these information-poor (or pathologically dithering) folks have absorbed despite themselves. 

    21 minutes ago

    I’m beginning to notice that genferei is right about a lot of things …

    Fascinating experiment and results!

  3. dogsbody

    The Obama ads have a significant impact on vote preference, increasing Obama’s vote and decreasing Romney’s. The Romney ads aren’t effective in shifting preferences.

    Whatever the reason, this confirms my impression of the Romney campaign team — they’re not very good at campaigning.  Sigh.

    We’re facing a guy who is a terrible president but a very good campaigner.  The debates seem to be the only way by which Romney can prevail.  Let’s pray he does very well tonight.

  4. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    dogsbody

    Whatever the reason, this confirms my impression of the Romney campaign team — they’re not very good at campaigning.  Sigh.

    I’m not saying I don’t wish these ads had moved vote preference for Romney, but they, and some of the specific ads especially, are seriously boosting enthusiasm.

    I think this just may be a structural/candidate thing, not a campaign issue . . . if you look at the bulk of the polling post-debate compared to pre, the vote preference for all registered voters doesn’t really shift, despite overwhelming and near-universal negative coverage of Obama. Now, if THAT doesn’t shift a lot of votes, then I’m not sure what could in the ad world. 

    The big open question right now is who shows up, not what the vote share is among all potential voters. And for that outcome, enthusiasm can matter a lot.

  5. Joseph Eagar

    Obama is persuading people with his ads?  Seriously?  That I find hard to believe.  [edit addendum] I do agree that this is a base election, though, and that enthusiasm will likely determine the outcome.

  6. Adam Schaeffer
    C

    Joseph . . . ha, well, I wasn’t necessarily surprised by that, but I was shocked by how little movement we saw from the Romney ads. It seems that the people who are wavering are more susceptible to Obama’s  pitch/attack. But that doesn’t mean they are going to actually pull the lever for him.

    On the other hand, the Progressive advantage on GOTV makes me extremely anxious. It these marginal voters where the GOTV psych can really make a big impact.

  7. Joseph Eagar
    Adam Schaeffer: Joseph . . . ha, well, I wasn’t necessarily surprised by that, but I was shocked by how little movement we saw from the Romney ads. It seems that the people who are wavering are more susceptible to Obama’s  pitch/attack. But that doesn’t mean they are going to actually pull the lever for him.

    On the other hand, the Progressive advantage on GOTV makes me extremely anxious. It these marginal voters where the GOTV psych can really make a big impact. · 0 minutes ago

    Do you think we’re in danger of repeating 2000, with Obama winning the Electoral College but Romney winning the popular vote?

  8. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    Joseph Eagar Do you think we’re in danger of repeating 2000, with Obama winning the Electoral College but Romney winning the popular vote? · 8 minutes ago

    It’s definitely crossed my mind, and I think that’s much more likely than the reverse considering the state of the election and my GOTV concerns. The Obama team could do enough heavy lifting to squeeze out a win in the necessary swing states, but lose or underperform by offsetting margins elsewhere.

    I’m still hopeful that it won’t be close enough for that to happen. But, honestly, how good has anyone been at predicting electoral outcomes since 2008? Things are volatile right now in our politics . . .

  9. Eeyore

    I’ve been saying for quite a while that the election will be decided by which side gets out their base voters who had already decided to sit it out.

    Therefore, this should cheer me somewhat. And yet…

  10. Adam Schaeffer
    C

    Come on Eeyore, anything can happen! Good or bad, but still . . . In any case, The One is probably over-prepped and will try too hard to look tough tonight. So we’ll probably have the “Obama sucks Live” narrative continue . . . 

  11. Jason Bedrick
    Eeyore: I’ve been saying for quite a while that the election will be decided by which side gets out their base voters who hadalready decided to sit it out.

    Therefore, this should cheer me somewhat. And yet… · 3 hours ago

    It’s not all bad news. There’s still this: 

    Romney: 50% Obama: 46%  http://www.gallup.com/poll/158048/romney-obama-among-likely-voters.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=syndication&utm_content=morelink&utm_term=All%20Gallup%20Headlines%20-%20Politics