Is Anybody Listening? The Impact of Issue Appeals in Presidential Campaigns

27 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 8 Sep 2010

See all articles by Andrew Therriault

Andrew Therriault

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Date Written: August 26, 2010


More than half a century after The People's Choice inaugurated the modern study of voter behavior, scholars remain puzzled by the paradox of campaigns. Though billions of dollars are spent on campaigns in every election cycle, evidence that these efforts have any substantial effect on voters' choices remains hard to find, and the mechanisms by which these effects occur are an even greater mystery. This paper aims to clarify our understanding of campaign effects by looking at the role of issue advertising in the 2004 US presidential election. It tests whether campaign messages increase voters' knowledge of the candidates' positions, influence voters' policy preferences, or alter the salience of issues, and whether such effects have any meaninful impact upon the voters' candidate preferences. These analyses offer greater insight than previous studies by taking advantage of the more abundant and precise data on both voters and campaigns which has only recently become available, allowing for much finer-grained analyses than was possible in previous studies. The results show clear evidence that voters learn from and change their positions in response to campaign messages, but no evidence that the salience of issues is significantly affected. In translating these effects to vote choice, however, learning and opinion change are shown primarily to reinforce existing candidate preferences, while changes in issue salience (if and when they occur) show the greatest potential to sway votes. These findings serve to both demonstrate the significance of campaign effects and also help explain why they have historically been such a challenge to find.

Keywords: campaign effects, advertising, issues, voter behavior, vote choice, public opinion, priming, learning, persuasion, cueing, information, knowledge, issue emphasis

Suggested Citation

Therriault, Andrew, Is Anybody Listening? The Impact of Issue Appeals in Presidential Campaigns (August 26, 2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Andrew Therriault (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

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