A Messenger Like Me: The Effect of Average Spokespeople in Campaign Advertising
24 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2014
Date Written: 2014
Theories of persuasion in political communication have frequently identified the credibility of the messenger as an important factor in determining the influence of a given message. The majority of research in this area, however, focuses on the influence of elite messengers (e.g., party spokespeople or other experts) who through the provision of cues or endorsements give citizens information that aids decision-making without the need to draw on more detailed knowledge. Despite this focus, campaign advertisements frequently feature non-elite messengers as the favored vehicle for conveying a candidate’s message. Yet little is known about the usage and influence of such messengers. Drawing on a comprehensive database of political advertising from the Wesleyan Media Project, our own original coding of almost 300 ads and a new large-scale survey data set assessing the effectiveness and credibility of the 2012 ads, we explore the prominence of such messengers and their effectiveness compared to other types of elite messengers. We demonstrate that using ordinary spokespeople (i.e., “Average Jo(e)” messengers) is a common tactic, particularly in negative campaign ads, and that their use is associated with higher credibility scores than ads without them even after controlling for partisanship and political sophistication.
Keywords: political advertising, messenger, credibility, persuasion
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