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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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