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

52 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2020 Last revised: 10 May 2021

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 study the effects of positive and negative advertising in presidential elections. We develop a model to disentangle these effects on voter turnout and candidate choice. The central empirical challenges are highly correlated and endogenous advertising quantities that are measured with error. To address these challenges, we construct a large set of potential instruments, including interactions with incumbency that we demonstrate provide the critical identifying variation, and apply machine learning causal inference methods. Using data from the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections, we find that positive and negative ads play fundamentally different roles. Negative ads are more effective at driving relative candidate shares, whereas positive ads stimulate turnout. These results indicate that a candidate geographically targeting tone trades off local relative share gains and local increases in turnout for localities with a strong base. Counterfactual simulations indicate that ad tone alone can impact the outcome of close elections. Our analysis also provides potential explanations as to why past studies have produced mixed findings on both ad tone and turnout effects.

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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