The experiment identified the impact of this year’s record-breaking broadcast spending, showing a significant influence on American voters. Findings revealed that Obama ads consistently shift candidate preference (swing voters), but Romney ads significantly increase enthusiasm among Republican-leaning voters, which could yield a much higher turnout for him on Election Day.
More was spent on television ads this year than in any Presidential race in history, with a combined total of more than $544 millionbetween the Democrats and Republicans to date. Fueled by record fundraising this election season, that total is expected to soar to $1.1 billion.
The research exposed swing voters to one or more of several ads and then asked them to complete a Qualtrics survey after watching. Some respondents entered a Placebo-Control group and didn’t watch any ads before the survey. Evolving Strategies doesn’t believe in asking respondents what they think about an ad, but measures the true causal impact instead. A PocketTrial™ quantifies the true impact of a message using a double-blind, fully controlled experimental design made possible by the sophisticated, yet intuitive Qualtrics research platform. It’s like a small-scale clinical drug trial, but for ad testing.
“Candidates are spending more money than ever before in an attempt to reach new voters, influence existing ones and ultimately, get them all to the polls,” said Ryan Smith, CEO and co-founder of Qualtrics. “By using the Qualtrics platform, Evolving Strategies was able to analyze and reveal significant findings unlike ever before. The research provided immediate and valuable insight into how these ads are moving voters differently.”
This unparalleled research showcases how political ads are significantly impacting voter psychology and behavior, however, not necessarily the way the Obama and Romney campaigns had anticipated. In addition to predicting less support but potentially more voter turnout for Romney, other key findings include:
- Obama’s ads increase his vote by about 6 points on average - a 15% bump in Obama's vote.
- Romney’s ads decrease his vote by about 8 points - an 18% slide in Romney's vote.
- Obama ads increase the percentage of marginal undecided and wavering voters who prefer him.
- Romney and Obama ads increase the highest level of voter enthusiasm of ’08 McCain voters by 13 points - a 42% surge in the number of McCain ’08 voters who are extremely enthusiastic to vote this year.
- Enthusiasm for ’08 Obama voters remains flat.
- Romney ads impact marginal, decided voters, increasing the likelihood that voters who say they prefer him will actually turn out to vote.
“Voter behavior isn’t simple, and neither is the impact of campaign advertising,” said Adam Schaeffer, director of research & co-founder of Evolving Strategies. “We’re thrilled to work with Qualtrics, which allows us to easily create complicated experimental designs that delve deeply into voter psychology and clarify what moves which voters.