The Ad Wars: Winning on Base Enthusiasm or Undecideds?

We recently partnered with Qualtrics to run the most comprehensive test of Presidential advertising impacts to date. The results are in. They’ve been crunched in stats programs. Pushed on. They are solid. And surprising.

The release is embargoed until Tuesday morning, but I wanted to put out a teaser and a question.

The impact of each candidate’s ads are pretty consistent, and consistently different. 

One candidate’s ads ads have a consistent and significant impact on vote preference, increasing his vote and decreasing his opponent’s. His ads increase the percentage of marginal undecided and wavering voters who prefer him. The other candidate’s ads aren’t effective in shifting preferences.

The twist . . . for the other candidate, the ads consistently increase enthusiasm among his likely voters. The ads don’t significantly impact the enthusiasm of the base for the other candidate. The ads impact marginal, decided voters, increasing the likelihood that voters who say they prefer him will actually turn out to vote.

So, here are my questions . . .

Which impact goes with which candidate? Who wins the Presidential ad war by shifting marginal votes, and who wins by goosing base enthusiasm?

Who is the enthusiasm candidate, Romney or Obama? 

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

And why do you think one or the other?

Stay tuned for results early Tuesday . . . .

Overview of the PocketTrial™ Experiment

All respondents were randomly assigned to one of 11 “conditions,” either a Control group or one of 10 Treatment groups. They otherwise answered the same survey questions in an identical survey instrument. The order in which the ads were presented to respondents in the combined treatment conditions was randomized, as were other questions and responses where appropriate. The sample was drawn from an opt-in panel to approximate the 2008 electorate in the CCES 2008 validated dataset (non-strong partisans only) on education, age, gender, and race. All respondents were screened to be registered, pure independents and weak partisans. The PocketTrial™ survey experiment included 2,384 respondents and was fielded from Sept. 28-Oct. 3.

Respondents were randomly assigned (within Party identification blocks) to one of eleven conditions in a true experiment – ten treatment groups and a control:   

Control Condition

Respondents were not exposed to either ad before the policy and election questions were answered.

Medicare Ad Conditions 

Respondents viewed either a Romney Medicare ad, an Obama Medicare ad, or both. 

Economic Attack Ad Conditions

Respondents viewed either a Romney economic attack ad, an Obama economic attack ad, or both.

Comprehensive “Plan” Ad Conditions

Respondents viewed either a Romney ad laying out his plan for the country, an Obama “plan” ad that also defends his record, or both of these ads as well as Romney’s economic attack ad.

AFP “Disappointed” Ad Condition

Respondents viewed a widely-aired ad produced by American for Prosperity, in which Obama voters express their disappointment with the President.

  1. Rudolf Halbensinn

    Just off the record you understand.

    When will Romney show an ad of that man Felix Baumgarnter jumping from 14 miles up? And when he is at the door of the capsule and takes that one, very long step (mind the gap), two feet from the capsule the voice of Obama intones :

    “You didn’t do that.”

  2. 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.

  3. David John

    I’ll wager Romney swings votes / Obama inspires base, just as it should be for a blowout R victory in November.  Looking forward to seeing your results.

  4. Doc

    Teasers are cruel.

  5. Mister D

    I’m with David John – Mitt’s winning voters, Obama pumping up the base. This is why the debate mattered – it despirited Obama’s base (which he has not added to) while revving up the enthusiasm for Romney’s (which has been growing).

  6. dogsbody

    I also agree with David John — Obama’s campaign has concentrated, so far, on increasing the enthusiasm of his base, which was/is wilting.  (That’s why Biden was so rude — his base loves people who are rude to Republicans.)  The New York Times had an article this summer that pretty much said this as well.  They’re not trying to convert people — they think if they can replicate the enthusiasm of 2008, they’re golden.  Of course, they’re failing at that right now.

  7. Grendel
    David John: I’ll wager Romney swings votes / Obama inspires base, 

    Obama got a lot of new voters and mush-minded–ergh, ideologically infirm voters, all of whom got swept up by the hopey-changey enthusiasm.  They along with regular Democratic voters are feeling buyer’s remorse and need to be energized.

    Republicans voted in pretty much usual numbers for McCain.  There is no chance they will switch to Obama.  Romney-Ryan are new faces with new ideas and unfamiliar backgrounds.  They have to get commitment from the hesitant and break off the Obama leaners and disappointed Obama voters who have become loosely attached.

  8. Timothy Patton

    Ditto on Romney swings/ Obama inspires base.

  9. Adam Schaeffer
    C

    R. Craigen, you got me! 

    Thanks to everyone for all the great feedback and conversation. Looks like we have a  solid consensus here that Obama is the “Enthusiasm Impact” candidate and Romney is the “Vote Preference Impact” candidate.

    And just this morning, we have what I believe is the one contrary opinion . . . genferei:

    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. · 54 minutes ago

    You all have had a lot of thought and solid rationale behind your bets, including genferei’s position . . . .

    What do you think of genferei’s case here? Anyone share this position? 

    Want to goose discussion on this because there’s been so much agreement. I think arguing through these hypotheticals can uncover some great insights and new possibilities . . .

  10. Keith Preston

    I might have gone with Genferei’s assessment in the past (and deep down would be disappointed, but not surprised if he’s right), except for something I saw recently…

    I watched Stephen Bannon’s The Hope and the Change.  Wow.  Devastating.  The sense of “I was conned”, “I was fooled”, “I would never vote again for him again” that comes from those Democrat/Independent voters sounds like this morning’s article by Byron York.  I think these voters are whom Mitt’s campaign is aiming at.

  11. John Grier

    Yes, we are looking for the person that voted for Obama last time. But perhaps —- a secondary question needs to be asked: Has anyone found a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or family member that voted for McCain in ’08 that is considering voting for Obama this time around?

    I’d really like to know the answer to that one.  I have NOT found ONE that is.

  12. Mickerbob

    I am reminded of Obama’s strategy as being similar to FDR’s in the 1936 election. (As I recall from my reading of Amity Shlaes’ “The Forgotten Man.) He gave a little bit of red meat to his disparate groups in order to put together a coalition.  Great move for FDR, hopefully not Obama.  I am looking forward to Adam’s results.

  13. R. Craigen

    Ah Adam.  You gave the game away here:

    the other candidate, the ads consistently increase enthusiasm among his likely voters

    Obviously the “other” candidate to whom you refer is the male candidate as opposed to the female.  Your challenge is therefore no match for my superior deductive powers.

  14. R. Craigen

    In the last weeks the R&R ticket needs to seal their win by going after a vulnerable demographic.  The downside of this point: Republicans are not accustomed to pandering.  So don’t pander.  Talk to them — but talk straight, and don’t try to buy them off with special favours:  explain why the R&R platform is good for them, not why it contains “goodies” for them.  There is a difference.

    There is no more obvious demographic than the black vote.  With 95% on the Obama side it’s practically a statistical impossibility that all of that is solid.  You would only have to move about 10% of that vote to see a major shift in the political landscape — but I think you could move more than that.  Remember Ryan’s dive into AARP “enemy” territory.  Not bad, but I think something more determined and ongoing would work with the black community.  I’d like to see a phalanx of R&R surrogates who have a good track record in that community do a power tour:  Cain, Gingrich, Love, and some of the black pastors.  R&R parachute in to do some major rallies.

  15. Keith Preston
    R. Craigen: 

      I’d like to see a phalanx of R&R surrogates who have a good track record in that community do a power tour:  Cain, Gingrich, Love, and some of the black pastors.  R&R parachute in to do some major rallies. · 4 minutes ago

    I understand that in many of their recent appearances R & R are going into counties that BHO won in 2008.  Interesting strategy.

  16. Mel Foil
    Who is the enthusiasm candidate, Romney or Obama? Obama - Who is the vote-shifting candidate, Romney or Obama? Romney - And why do you think one or the other? Because Romney’s poll numbers are moving up from a base level, and Obama’s numbers are moving down to a base level. - The Democrats sometimes have strange turn-out results, that involve 120% of registered voters voting, so you can’t count that strategy out.
  17. Devereaux
    Mel Foil: Who is the enthusiasm candidate, Romney or Obama? Obama - Who is the vote-shifting candidate, Romney or Obama? Romney - And why do you think one or the other? Because Romney’s poll numbers are moving up from a base level, and Obama’s numbers are moving down to a base level. - The Democrats sometimes have strange turn-out results, that involve 120% of registered voters voting, so you can’t count that strategy out. · 0 minutes ago

    Edited 0 minutes ago

    There simply isn’t one voter who voted FOR McCain who will not vote for Romney. But there are a host of voters who voted FOR Obama who will not do so this time around. They may not vote for Romney, but they won’t vote for Obama either. And he needs all those votes. Were any of those to actually cross over, that’s a double whammy. 

    So Romney’s mission is to try to convince some of those Obama voters to cross over – because they count “double”.

  18. Mister D
    John Grier: Yes, we are looking for the person that voted for Obama last time. But perhaps —- a secondary question needs to be asked: Has anyone found a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or family member that voted for McCain in ’08 that is considering voting for Obama this time around?

    I’d really like to know the answer to that one.  I have NOT found ONE that is. · 1 hour ago

    My wife. But she is a dem at heart, and finds Mitt “creepy.” To add context – she loved John Edwards for “standing by his wife” and she liked Clinton too, so her judgement is a perfect reverse compass (and before anyone asks, she confessed to me before we were married that I was nothing like the guys she would usually go out with – mostly creeps and losers).

  19. Smokedaddy
      I’d like to see a phalanx of R&R surrogates who have a good track record in that community do a power tour:  Cain, Gingrich, Love, and some of the black pastors.  R&R parachute in to do some major rallies. · 1 hour ago

    Yes, Who’s the guy who used to post the vids at PJ media. Terrific. I’d say our reps shud be black, but in truth black Repubs are often seen as sellouts. Sad but true. A very plain talking, articulate, empathetic master of the historical facts and narrative needs to be used. Gingrich might be good.

    And oh, yes, O is clearing pumping the base, Romney looking to appeal to indies. The result may be that a large turnout may actually be good for the Repubs. Food for thought.

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