Impact on voters
Does it work? Can a 30 second commercial change a voter’s mind?
Research shows that ads can sometimes influence a so-called “soft supporter”—someone who doesn’t have a clear reason for supporting a particular candidate.
They can also turn off voters by making people so sick and tired of politics that they forgo the polls altogether.
Experts predict that as many as 90 million Americans who are eligible to vote will drive right on by their local polling place on November 6th, without stopping in to submit their ballot.
A recent poll conducted by Suffolk University and USA TODAY sheds some light on who these people are and why they may choose to forfeit their right to choose the next president. Empty promises and corrupt practices topped the list of reasons that study participants cited when asked why they don’t pay attention to politics.
But McKown says that the current presidential race isn’t substantially more negative than past competitions. “It would be a mistake to think that political discussion is more corrupted than it has been,” he says, “It’s not as if there was this golden period where people engaged in smart discourse.”
How can you avoid being influenced by a persuasive ad?
The simplest way: “Don’t watch them,” says Joan McLean, Ph.D., a professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University.
But, because politics has permeated practically every media outlet, evasion may not always be an option.
There are things you can do to prevent yourself from being duped by a well-placed political ad:
Embrace your inner skeptic: Whether it was created by a candidate’s campaign or a third-party organization, don’t take what you see and hear in a political ad at face value. Political speech is not subject to the same false advertising regulations as consumer products are, which means that the creators of political ads have much more leeway when making claims about a candidate or issue.
Do your homework: McKown and McLean both stress the importance of doing your own research to determine where each candidate stands on the issues. Keep in mind that candidate websites and news outlets (even those who claim to be impartial) typically have a certain political bent. If you want unbiased information, try visiting fact-checking websites, such as: politifact.com, or factcheck.org.
Talk about it: Find a friend or family member that you trust and can talk politics with. Whether you agree on the issues or not, engaging in a thoughtful, non-confrontational discussion can give you a fresh perspective on the election.
It’s important to not allow frustration or confusion to turn you off to voting all together. Finding simplified, non-biased information isn’t easy, but it can be done.
“I don’t know how we got to the point where we feel we should be educated by thirty second ads alone,” McKown says, “They’re going to present things the way they want to present them—it doesn’t mean that democracy is broken or the candidates are bad. Just do your own research.”