The Psychological Impacts of Political Ads

Posted on September 8, 2018

Political advertisements are crafted to capture and retain the audience’s attention as quickly as possible. The most common and possibly, effective, way to accomplish this is by appealing to voters’ emotions. In this aspect, negative advertisements aimed at discrediting the opponent is more influential and memorable than positive campaign ads done by the politician’s public relations team.

According to evolutionary psychology, humans are wired to be more sensitive to negative stimuli and cues than positive ones, possibly because negative cues in the environment used to mean danger and potential loss of crucial resources in the near future and that was more important than looking out for rewards. Hence, this could explain why there is a dramatic increase in negative ads during voting seasons.

A strategy that these negative ads tend to employ is the use of fear-invoking imageries, such as how an opponent’s policies – and perhaps even personal beliefs – could destabilize the family unit. Fear tends to be an effective tool for reasons similar to the abovementioned; humans are more sensitive to potential loss messages than rewards.

Negative ads are also useful political tools because they tend to compel the opponent to react to the claims in the ads – these opponents, for fear of losing control of the narrative, would then tend to bring up issues that they had no intention of discussing publicly, even if the claims themselves did not have any basis.

On the other hand, media experts believe that positive ads may actually be more helpful – for politicians who already have an established career and are standing against opponents who do not have as much political experience. In these cases, highlighting their own political and social contributions would enhance their standing and credibility in the eyes’ of the voters and convince them that they are a better bet than the opposing side.


Source material from We Are Green Bay

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