Disentangling the Effects of Ad Tone on Voter Turnout and Candidate Choice in Presidential Elections

40 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2020

See all articles by Brett R. Gordon

Brett R. Gordon

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management

Mitchell J. Lovett

Simon School of Business – University of Rochester

Bowen Luo

University of Rochester - Simon Business School

James Reeder, III

Purdue University - Krannert School of Management

Date Written: December 19, 2019

Abstract

We develop an approach to disentangle the effect of positive and negative advertising on primary and secondary demand. We study these ad tone effects in the context of political advertising using a model of voter turnout and candidate choice. Our central empirical challenge is disentangling ad tone effects when advertising is measured with error and candidates' advertising choices are influenced by factors observed by campaigns and voters but unobserved by the researcher. To address this challenge, we employ an instrumental variables strategy that combines a new, very large set of potential instruments with recent advances in machine learning for causal inference (Belloni et al. 2012). Applying this strategy to data on the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Presidential elections, we find that positive and negative ads play fundamentally different roles. Negative advertising is more effective at driving relative candidate share, but tends to decrease voter turnout. In contrast, positive advertising stimulates voter turnout, but does so for both the own and opposing candidates. These results indicate that a candidate deciding which tone to use has to weigh the trade-off between relative share and turnout. A series of partial-equilibrium counterfactual simulations demonstrates that ad tone alone can have small but meaningful effects on the outcomes of close elections.

Keywords: Advertising effects, advertising tone, negative advertising, political advertising, presidential elections, LASSO

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Brett R. and Lovett, Mitch and Luo, Bowen and Reeder, III, James, Disentangling the Effects of Ad Tone on Voter Turnout and Candidate Choice in Presidential Elections (December 19, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3506385 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3506385

Brett R. Gordon (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2211 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Mitch Lovett

Simon School of Business – University of Rochester ( email )

300 Crittenden Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

Bowen Luo

University of Rochester - Simon Business School ( email )

Rochester, NY 14627
United States

James Reeder, III

Purdue University - Krannert School of Management ( email )

1310 Krannert Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1310
United States

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