Tag: Politics

During the 2020 election cycle, presidential candidates spent nearly $3 billion on television, radio and digital ads—shattering records and demonstrating how important advertising is to campaign strategy. Given the amount of resources dedicated to advertising, understanding how messages influence voter behavior is critical to campaigns.

New research from Olin Business School is shedding light on how slant—the extremeness of the message—and consistency with the candidate’s primary campaign messaging in national television advertisements affected voter behavior during the 2016 presidential election, specifically online word-of-mouth chatter and candidate preference in daily polls.

More than 800 national ads

With the help of recent advancements in text analysis methods, researchers conducted an extensive review of more than 800 national television ads that ran from June through November 2016. The study results were published on Jan. 28 in Quantitative Marketing and Economics by Raphael Thomadsen, professor of marketing at Olin; Donggwan Kin, a PhD candidate at Olin; Beth L. Fossen, at Indiana University; and David A. Schweidel, at Emory University.


“Slant and consistency are two vital dimensions related to the branding of political candidates, with slant representing what the candidate stands for, and consistency representing the extent to which the candidate creates a clear and repeated message of what they represent, which creates the branding of the candidate,” Thomadsen said. 

Their findings challenge conventional campaign wisdom, which suggests that candidates should moderate their positions and become more centrist after winning the party’s nomination. 

Looking specifically at Twitter trends, the researchers observed that both candidates, on average, experienced a 30% increase in online word-of-mouth chatter between the five-minute window before an ad was shown and the five-minute window after an ad was shown. However, political ads with messages that were extremely Republican or extremely Democratic decreased the volume of candidate-related word of mouth, especially in earlier stages of the campaign.

There’s a caveat to that finding, though: Centrist messages in political ads did generate more online word-of-mouth and higher daily poll ratings, but the benefit of centrism was lost if those same messages were inconsistent with the candidate’s primary election platform.

“We find that consistency with the primary message, which is generally more partisan, is also important,” Thomadsen said.  “What that means, to me, is that the branding is important and that the benefit of moving to the center can be offset — or even more than offset — by the loss of the consistency of the message that such a move necessitates.

“It also demonstrates why candidates who have stuck with more extreme messaging have not suffered as much as political scientists focused on the median voter theories would believe they would.”

‘This goes against the advice that some consultants give, which is that no one pays attention until late in the race.’

Raphael Thomadsen

The importance of both centrism and message consistency were largest in the early stages of the general election, which seems to suggest that people may be more responsive to a candidate’s messages in political ads early in the campaign, Thomadsen said

“This goes against the advice that some consultants give, which is that no one pays attention until late in the race. Our analysis suggests the opposite — the candidate’s brand is built early in the race, and then at the end things become more of a scrum for voters,” Thomadsen said.

According to Thomadsen, slant and consistency have traditionally been difficult to study on a large scale because the research was labor intensive, but new text analytics tools make the research more efficient. In the present study, authors were able to dig deeper — beyond the traditional focus on tone, source and volume of advertising — for a more nuanced understanding of how political ads impact voter behavior.‘This goes against the advice that some consultants give, which is that no one pays attention until late in the race. Our analysis suggests the opposite — the candidate’s brand is built early in the race, and then at the end things become more of a scrum for voters.’

What makes political ads effective

“This research is among the first in marketing to use text analysis to derive message-related metrics that are linked to the performance of television commercials,” Thomadsen said. “Similar approaches could be used outside of political marketing, by product and service marketers, to assess the importance of message consistency in an efficient and automated way.”

In total, the analysis included 824 ad airings for 60 unique ad creatives aired by 11 political advertisers, including campaigns, political parties and seven PACs. National television advertising buys account for more than 25% of all campaign television spending — a share that is expected to increase as the rising cost of local ad inventory in battleground markets increases, according to Thomadsen.

Slant was measured by analyzing the language used in the ad, including topics and specific word choice. Ads that featured language primarily used by one party were labeled extreme, while ads that included language used by both parties were labeled centrist. Examples of extreme messaging included ads that focused on national security, immigration, gender equality and health care. The technology also captured other dimensions, such as attack phrases frequently used by a candidate and other phases that set the tenor of their campaign.

To study message consistency, the team compared ad content to primary campaign speeches. Daily poll data on voter preferences and online chatter about the candidates on Twitter provided measures for voter behavior impact.

Clinton and Trump

Altogether, Hillary Clinton had more ad airings, while ads supporting Donald Trump had larger audience sizes. Ads supporting the two candidates were comparable in tone, length and ad position.

While most of the national ads were fairly centrist, Trump’s ads tended to be somewhat more centrist than Clinton’s ads. Some of Trump’s ads leaned toward Democratic ideology, such as his promised support for gender equality, including equal pay and support for child care.

Likewise, some of Clinton’s leaned toward Republican ideology, including ads that discussed threats from nuclear weapons or the Islamic state. Overall, Clinton’s ads had a higher level of consistency than Trump’s.

“Trump’s presidency was more conservative than his 2016 campaign, so we remember those aspects of his messaging more,” Thomadsen said. “His first campaign had a lot of messages for the center, or even the left, of the country. He advocated for family leave, for example.”

Taken together, “the results suggest that it would be advantageous for candidates to adhere close to their primary campaign messages in the early stages of the general election and emphasize moderate or time-specific messages as the election further develops,” the authors wrote.  

“Further, the results suggest that the rising use of extremist messages in political advertising may be a flawed strategy for candidates that could decrease candidate-related word-of-mouth volume and voter preference for the candidate.”

As presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump make their last-minute pushes for votes before the Nov. 8 election, an Olin Business School faculty member said the tight race boils down, in part, to poor political branding practices.

“Corporate managers know that in order to sell a product, you have to brand it,” said Raphael Thomadsen, associate professor of marketing at Olin Business School. “Branding means creating a promise for the product and infusing every customer interaction with that meaning. Branding is critically important not just in business, but in politics, too. However, the Democrats chose not to brand Hillary Clinton in this election.”



Thomadsen, whose research focuses on marketing management and strategy, said Clinton’s camp failed to rise to the branding challenge: Instead of giving her a clear, consistent message, it provided messages that were muddled and scattered. Thomadsen contrasted that with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, noting his campaign material constantly backs up that slogan.

“Trump’s branding is clear,” said Thomadsen. “His voters know why they are voting for him.  Clinton, in contrast, has not branded herself. A brand must be built by repeating your message and framing each talking point within that message. At times, Clinton has tried to create a brand with slogans such as ‘Stronger Together,’ however the execution failed to be consistent. Go to hillaryclinton.com and you might see a video entitled ‘When you’re 27 million strong.’ However, there are also lots of messages on other themes. There is no slogan anywhere on that page that creates a common message across the material. That is not a brand.”

Thomadsen also noted that Clinton’s campaign could have pivoted and tried to brand Trump in a negative way, but here again it never stuck on a consistent theme. While Clinton certainly critiqued Trump, Thomadsen maintained that she didn’t create a lasting branding framework to effectively sway over voters.

“Perhaps they felt there were too many potential messages,” he explained. “Should they focus on the mistreatment of women? On his lies? On his financial dealings? Clinton often critiqued Trump, but her campaign didn’t create a lasting framework with which to string together each of Trump’s scandals. This was a lost branding opportunity for the campaign.

“Ultimately, Hillary Clinton didn’t effectively brand herself, so Trump did it for her,” Thomadsen continued. “Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ terminology is ubiquitous. In the absence of any coordinated message against this, that brand has stuck.”

Guest blogger: Erika Ebsworth-Goold

Partisan politics can incite volatile emotions among the electorate, as the 2016 Presidential election has demonstrated. But what about voters’ emotions after election day? Olin professor Lamar Pierce and colleagues have been studying the reaction of voters to the 2012 election and have found a surprising trend among the winners and losers.

“Elections are important from a policy standpoint, but they also represent competition between the strong group identities of political parties,” said Pierce, associate professor of organization and strategy at Olin Business School. “Although an election might affect someone’s happiness because of its implications for policy, it also might induce sadness simply because their group’s candidate lost.”

Lamar Pierce

Lamar Pierce

Pierce, along with co-authors from the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of California at Los Angeles, examined data from thousands of online surveys conducted by CivicScience, an online polling and market research company. The research compared the happiness levels reported by people who identified with a political party in the days leading up to, and just after, the 2012 presidential election. The researchers found the pain of losing an election is larger and more impactful than the joy of winning, but the agony of defeat was surprisingly short-lived.

“Within three or four days the losers were back to their pre-election happiness levels,” Pierce said. “What this strongly suggests is that this is like losing the big game. It feels devastating and then several days later, life moves on.”

For comparison points, Pierce and his co-authors applied the same methodology to two national tragedies: the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting. The emotional dip that resulted was far smaller than the effect of a partisan election loss, with two notable exceptions: those who had children, who were distinctly less happy after Sandy Hook; and Boston residents, who had similar emotional responses after the marathon bombing. Pierce says the difference reveals the strong role of partisan identity to a person’s self and well-being.

“The magnitude of effects that we see around the election are not trivial,” Pierce said.

However, they might be changeable. Pierce points out that different factors are at work this election cycle that could very well yield different results as opposed to those observed in 2012.

“I think many people have very strong opinions about what the real policy impact would be in this election,” Pierce said. “You might get a different result in this case, but certainly in 2012 it was a very temporary effect.”

Pierce’s research appeared in the Journal of Experimental Political Science.

Guest blogger: Erika Ebsworth-Goold

Image: retrobaltimore.tumblr.com

Claire McCaskill participated in her first political campaign in 1960 when she was 7 years old. It was Halloween and when her neighbors in the conservative Missouri town of Lebanon opened their doors, she chimed, “Trick or Treat. Vote for JFK!” She didn’t realize it then, but clearly sees now that her parents were teaching her how to be a risk-taker and stand up for what you believe in.

McCaskill, now the senior senator from Missouri in the US Congress, was a guest speaker  Oct. 30 in the Women & Leadership course co-taught by Michelle Duguid, associate professor of organizational behavior and Maxine Clark, founder and former CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop. The course examines career paths, challenges, and choices for women in today’s workplace. McCaskill is one of nine women leaders scheduled to share their stories with students in the class.


Image Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

During her informal talk with students followed by questions and answers, McCaskill talked about her unbridled ambition to be in politics ever since she was 13. She emphatically told her audience of undergraduate and graduate women (and a few men), that “women should own their ambition.” It’s nothing to be ashamed of, she said, instead,”women need to embrace the fact that ambition is using your abilities to drive toward your goals.”

The Senator shared many lessons that she learned the hard way as she broke barriers for women in the Missouri legislature, Kansas City prosecuting attorney’s office, as Missouri Auditor and a US Senator.

Despite a 3 a.m. roll call in the Senate the night before, McCaskill delivered an energetic and inspiring talk in her signature straight-shooter style. In addition to comments on the current presidential campaign and gridlock in Congress, she shared timeless words of wisdom with the students:

“Every time I was marginalized, I used it as fuel to focus my drive.”

“Don’t submit to the disease to appease. You can’t lead by making everyone happy – if you do you are naive.”

“To grow confidence, you need to do something a little scary to push through the fear.”

“You are not evil and manipulative if you are strategic.”

“Be authentic to what you believe in. Stay grounded.”

Sen. McCasskill’s recently published memoir, Plenty Ladylike, is on the syllabus for the course along with case studies involving discrimination and research on gender differences, bias and stereotypes in the workplace.

Other speakers scheduled for the Women & Leadership course include:

Rebeccah Bennett Founder of Emerging Wisdom LLC and InPower Institute
Sharon Price John Chief Executive Officer and President of Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc.
Terry Crow Entrepreneur and Attorney
Deborah Patterson President of the Monsanto Fund
Ellen Sherberg  Publisher, St. Louis Business Journal
Suzanne Sitherwood Chief Executive Officer and President of The Laclede Group Inc.
Nina Leigh Krueger CMO for Nestle Purina PetCare Company
Kathleen Mazzarella Chief Executive Officer and President of Graybar Electric Co.



Alice Rivlin speaks at a Capitol Hill briefing on sequestration.

On Friday, March 1, 2013 the budget cuts of sequestration took effect. That same morning Alice Rivlin, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow, spoke to the Brookings Executive Education Legis Congressional Fellows and colleagues in Rayburn during the first, of hopefully many, Capitol Hill Briefings.

Brookings Executive Education Legis Congressional Fellowship is a six-month or yearlong opportunity for public or private sector managers to acquire an in-depth understanding of congressional affairs, legislative processes, and public policy by working on Capitol Hill.

Alice Rivlin recently served as a member of the President’s Debt Commission. She was founding director of CBO, served as OMB director, and was Federal Reserve Vice Chair. She is an expert on fiscal and monetary policy.

Rivlin discussed the polarization of our national politics and the blame game that has become our daily lives. Our political parties have found reasons to reallocate responsibility for the current situation we find ourselves in.  Rivlin followed with some reassurance. Our current recovery rate is not that fast and that is not that surprising. A recession preceded by financial crisis is not easily slipped. It is fairly impressive how far we have come already. This is a resilient economy; the 2008 crisis was fairly major and our recovery should reassure us.

Conversation transitioned to the topic of decision-making in a polarized environment. How do we explain this lack of compromise? Everything that we do, that is difficult, must be negotiated between the House and the Senate and between Congress and the President. Compromise has become a dirty word; no one wants to cut deals like was done ten years ago.

Sequestration effects are falling into place and the question that is on our mind is what should happen now? Rivlin stated that both political parties should not want to have the sequester continue for very long; across the board cuts are not healthy for our economy.  It is bad macro-economic policy and it is bad micro-economic policy. Sensible, gradual proposals are doable and should be a priority.