The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments
Forthcoming, American Political Science Review
166 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2017 Last revised: 19 Oct 2017
Date Written: September 25, 2017
Significant theories of democratic accountability hinge on how political campaigns affect Americans’ candidate choices. We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero. First, a systematic meta-analysis of 40 field experiments estimates an average effect of zero in general elections. Second, we present nine original field experiments that increase the statistical evidence in the literature about the persuasive effects of personal contact 10-fold. These experiments’ average effect is also zero. In both existing and our original experiments, persuasive effects only appear to emerge in two rare circumstances. First, when candidates take unusually unpopular positions and campaigns invest unusually heavily in identifying persuadable voters. Second, when campaigns contact voters long before election day and measure effects immediately — although this early persuasion decays. These findings contribute to ongoing debates about how political elites influence citizens’ judgments.
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