David Searle

Political Communications, American Politics, Political Behavior, Congress, Race and Ethnicity in American Politics, Experiments

Dissertation Title: Can Television Ads Persuade? Strategy and Persuasion of Television Advertising in Congressional Elections

Description: In my dissertation I examine the persuasive impact of television advertising in congressional elections. House candidates spend hundreds of millions of dollars every two years, yet it remains unclear what impact this has on electoral outcomes as previous research finds mixed results. First, I examine this question using aggregate advertising data from six election cycles from 2000-2012. Second, I conduct a series of experiments where I expose respondents to real congressional ads in order to determine the mechanism of persuasion. Finally, since the Citizens United ruling in 2010, third party groups such as PACs have increasingly been prominent in House elections. I examine this question by comparing third party ads to candidate-sponsored ads in an experimental setting. In all, I find that candidates advertise strategically and similarly, until it becomes clear who will win, and then their strategies diverge. The experimental evidence illustrates how despite the large amounts of money, different types of ads yield similar effect. These results have important policy implications for campaign finance as well as the quality of representation and political discourse.

Committee: Marisa Abrajano (Chair), Gary Jacobson, Zoltan Hajnal, Seth Hill, John Skrentny