Democratizing the Ad Watch

 The Vanderbilt/YouGov Ad Rating Project, directed by Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer, will provide timely data on Americans’ reactions to presidential campaign ads throughout the current campaign season. The project will monitor public assessments of the fairness, credibility, and tone of selected ads using weekly samples of registered voters provided by the internet survey firm YouGov. According to Geer, “We thought it would be valuable to gauge what voters think about political ads, instead of pundits.”

Geer and Douglas Rivers (of YouGov and Stanford University) have developed an innovative research design facilitating rapid turnaround of data—as little as 36 hours from an ad’s first airing to the dissemination of results. By showing survey respondents selected ads on their own computers, the project will sidestep some of the most daunting methodological pitfalls of conventional media research. And the weekly samples of registered voters will include over-samples of “pure independents,” providing reliable comparisons of the responses of distinct sub-groups of the electorate.

The first week’s survey focused on Barack Obama’s much-discussed “America the Beautiful” ad. Prospective voters rated that ad as slightly more “unfair” and slightly more “negative”—but also as considerably more “memorable”—than an earlier Obama ad focusing on Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, “Number One.” (For purposes of comparison, the project website presents responses to ten baseline ads, including positive and negative ads by both candidates and independent groups.)

The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis has a terrific description of the project’s aims and implications. The initial findings, he writes, “go a long way toward explaining why people in Richmond and Dayton and Denver are going to be seeing so much of Mitt Romney singing ‘America the Beautiful’.”

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Larry Bartels

Larry Bartels is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.