Advertising has been a popular tool during elections to enhance the popularity and name recognition of previously unknown candidates, attract new voters, connect candidates with particular demographic groups and help voters retain information on the candidates’ stances on issues.
Evidence shows that the ubiquity of televised political ads during elections also make voters better informed about issues, and that negative political ads might contribute to political cynicism and low turnout, or they might bolster candidates.
Michail Vafeiadis, assistant professor of Communication and Journalism at Auburn University, Ruobing Li, assistant professor Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and Fuyuan Shen, professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University, conducted a content analysis to explain the narratives of 243 political ads aired during the 2014 midterm elections in the United States.
The ads were broadcast on television, but sometimes the same ads were also displayed on the candidate’s website or were specifically produced for the internet and uploaded to the candidate’s YouTube channel.
Researchers found three types of narrative used in the ads: autobiographical, voter stories and testimonials. Autobiographical ads were candidates’ personal account like upbringing, education and professional experience.
Voter stories ads featured a coherent storyline about an issue that included a plot and resolution. For example, such an ad might show young parents describing the challenges they face in raising children and struggling with student loan debts while earning minimum wage, and how the candidate, by increasing the state’s minimum wage, can help voters in similar situations.
Testimonial ads were an abbreviated narrative, consisting of the mere presentation of evidence and characters without getting into the coherent storyline or plots that are typically present in long narratives. They are similar to anecdotes or exemplars that are distinct from voter stories ads.
Among these ads, incumbents and challengers used more testimonials and fewer autobiographical ads, while candidates in open races used significantly more autobiographical ads, and fewer testimonials.
The top five issues that were emphasized in these ads were the economy, education, health care, children’s issues and civil rights/special rights for special groups. The analysis showed that candidates from different parties did not differ in terms of their preference on specific issues.
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2O19iK6
Vafeiadis, M., Li, R., & Shen, F. (2018). Narratives in Political Advertising: An Analysis of the Political Advertisements in the 2014 Midterm Elections. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 62(2), 354-370.