Deconstructing Political Advertising: The Cognitive Processes Underlying Voting Behavior

By Bratu, Sofia | Geopolitics, History and International Relations, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Deconstructing Political Advertising: The Cognitive Processes Underlying Voting Behavior


Bratu, Sofia, Geopolitics, History and International Relations


ABSTRACT. This paper discusses the major trends in scholarship about the relationship between the advertising content and vote choice, the role of cognition or affect in advertising persuasion, the political consequences of electoral politics in the contemporary American setting, and the effects of facial similarity on voter behavior. The theory that I shall seek to elaborate here puts considerable emphasis on political advertising as a substantial component of news coverage, the relationship between elite conflict and mass political behavior, the effects of candidates' decisions on voting outcomes, and the processes underlying voters' decisions.

Keywords: political advertising, cognitive process, voting behavior

1. Introduction

I am specifically interested in how previous research investigated the relationship between the tone of advertising aired and people's political efficacy and attitudes toward government, changes in the content of campaign communications, the nature and extent of "rationality" in electoral behavior, and the impact of ad coverage on the electorate. The mainstay of the paper is formed by an analysis of the relationship between how many ads a candidate runs and that candidate's vote share, the impact of positive and negative ad exposure on perception of tone, individual and specific factors that might affect people's perceptions of ad tone, and people's perceptions of the tone of advertising.

2. The Processes Underlying Voters' Decisions

Rogowski examines how ideological conflict between competing candidates in elections affects voter turnout. Increasing policy differences between candidates significantly reduce voter turnout. Citizens with lower levels of education and political information are disproportionately demobilized by ideological conflict. Contextual factors, including the nature of the electoral choices on offer, affect mass political behavior. The degree of ideological conflict between candidates may affect mass political participation. Citizens' perceptions are useful for examining how voters view the nature of the electoral choices that are presented to them.

The preceding considerations suggest that presidential elections may offer an opportunity to examine how varying levels of conflict between the candidates affects turnout in those elections. Rogowski examines citizens' willingness to vote1 as a function of the level of ideological conflict between candidates in the district in which they live. Ideological conflict in elections has a demobilizing effect on voter turnout. Increased levels of ideological conflict reduce participation in the exercise of collective choice. In electoral contests with high levels of ideological conflict, the relevant chasm between voters and nonvoters is defined on the basis of political sophistication. A citizen's relative ideological position vis-à-vis the candidates has little impact on her decision to vote. Candidates may use their platform choices to generate particular patterns of voter turnout.2

Gordon et al. affirm that the winner-take-all nature of elections ensures that a significant proportion of voters3 choose a candidate who is not elected. The election process provides voters a significant incentive to influence others. Political advertising can mobilize an individual to participate in an election and can persuade an individual to vote for a particular candidate. The ultimate goal of political campaigns is to influence choice.4 Bailenson et al. compare the relative effects of candidate familiarity as well as partisan, issue, gender, and facial similarity on voters' evaluations of candidates. Facial similarity is a likely criterion for choosing between candidates. Candidates whose faces appear similar to large amounts of voters are in unique positions to achieve influence. Increasing the facial resemblance between candidates and voters can alter electoral results.5

3. The Relationship between Ideological Conflict and Voter Turnout

Gerber et al. …

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