Because I have ranted recently against the bane of 30-second political ads, I feel obliged to pass along this New York Times piece by UCLA Political Scientist Lynn Vavreck, titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Campaign Ads.”
According to research in which Vavreck participated after the 2006 midterms, people who lived in districts in which there had been more advertising were more likely to be able to recognize the candidates when shown pictures of their faces. This was especially true of recognition of the faces of the challengers who, in general, are less-famous than the incumbents.
This doesn’t much surprise me, but neither does it make me want to stop worrying and love campaign ads. There are relatively few ways for the face of a non-incumbent candidate to get known, and, especially for citizens who don’t pay much attention to politics in general, seeing their faces on oft-repeated TV commercials — whether the ads were for or against their faces — would be one of the likeliest to stick.
I likewise wouldn’t be surprised if, after being shown pictures of, let’s say Al Franken and Mike McFadden and asked “which of these guys voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time” and “which of these guys coached his kids’ football teams,” more Minnesotans could answer “correctly” thanks to TV ads.
I’m just not sure how much of a triumph for democracy this represents.