Assessing accountability in a post-citizens united era: The effects of attack ad sponsorship by unknown independent groups
According to this article the power of ads sponsored by independent groups rests not just in their sheer volume, but also in their relative effectiveness. When an attack ad is sponsored by an independent group, the authors found that the ad is far more effective than when the same ad is sponsored by a candidate.
They conducted an experiment by showing a negative state-level election ad about a particular fictitious candidate. The ad was either endorsed by the candidate’s opponent, by a nonpartisan independent group, or unattributed to either and shown to a sample of 1,500 U.S. adults. Regardless of sponsorship, researchers found that the ads were similarly persuasive regarding the flaws of the candidate who was the target of the ad. They suggest that since there is reduced potential of backlash from voters, independent groups may face incentives to produce highly controversial advertisements while facing relatively few incentives to be truthful in ads.
Greatly increased advertising spending by independent groups represents one of the most dramatic recent changes in U.S. elections. This article moves forward our theoretical and empirical understanding of how the public responds to ads sponsored by candidates as compared to ads sponsored by unknown Super PACs and similar independent groups. In the theoretical section of the article, we establish why it is necessary to measure both backlash and ad persuasiveness to understand overall ad effectiveness and then we develop a series of hypotheses about the likely influence of ad sponsorship. In the empirical section, we undertake the first analysis to date of how the public responds to attack television ads sponsored by unknown independent groups. Using a large-N, geographically representative sample of U.S. adults, we conduct an experiment to assess how sponsorship influences ad effectiveness. We find that attack ads sponsored by unknown independent groups are more effective, on net, than ads sponsored by candidates.
Deborah Jordan Brooks1, & Michael Murov1 (2012). Assessing Accountability in a Post-Citizens United Era
The Effects of Attack Ad Sponsorship by Unknown Independent Groups American Politics Research, 40 (3) : 10.1177/1532673X11414791