The $2.3 billion dollar question: do political advertisements work?
Leone, Olivia Concetta
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There is contention surrounding two major questions in regard to voting behavior in American politics. First, are political advertisements efficacious? Second, do partisans interpret political information in a different way than those who do not identify with a political bias — that is, do partisans engage in partisan-motivated reasoning? As billions of dollars each American presidential election cycle are spent, and fierce competition pervades the elections, shedding light on these two questions is more essential than ever. This project focuses on coupling these questions together to investigate if individuals who identify with a political party reason in a partisan-motivated manner in response to political advertisements. Utilizing a novel survey instrument and originally designed political advertisements featuring the candidates of the 2020 Presidential election, I surveyed over 900 individuals to discern if partisan-motivated reasoning was operative. I found three key results. First, partisan-motivated reasoning was utilized by those who identified as Republican or Democratic, but not for those who did not identify as being a partisan of one of the major political parties. Second, Republicans and Democrats reason in distinct, separate manners. Republicans did not modify their responses after exposure to partisan-conforming political advertisements (Trump-source advertisements) but did modify their responses after receiving partisan-nonconforming political advertisements (Biden-source advertisements). Oppositely, Democrats did modify their responses after exposure to partisan-conforming political advertisements (Biden-source advertisements) but did not modify their responses after receiving partisan-nonconforming political advertisements (Trump-source advertisements). Third, and more broadly, political advertisements are indeed effective; over 85% of individuals changed their first responses after exposure to the political advertisements. Moreover, across treatments, more than 31% of individuals updated their first answers and submitted updated responses as the same statistic presented in the advertisement. In sum, this thesis helps to elucidate an understanding of how partisans understand political information, specifically in the format of a political advertisement.
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