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.