During election season, it’s nearly impossible to turn on the TV without seeing at least one political campaign ad.
However, voters in Ohio and across the country might not be paying attention.
Political campaign ads are ignored by people who do not support the candidate, according to a recent study from Zheng Wang, an associate professor in Ohio State’s School of Communication, who was the lead author of the study.
Wang said the study involved 15 college students who watched political campaign ads during the 2008 presidential election between then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain. The students’ physiological responses, based on indicators from the skin, facial muscles and heart rate, were used to examine their reactions to the political ads.
The study showed those who had strong political beliefs toward a candidate would mentally tune out the political ads of the candidate they do not support, Wang said. Viewers who did not have strong political beliefs reacted similarly to both candidates’ ads.
TV viewers in swing states like Ohio see more political campaign ads. According to a July 9 Gallup poll, eight out of every 10 voters in swing states have seen political ads on TV, compared to six out of every 10 voters in other states.
“There have been so many different studies” on the effects of political campaign ads, Wang said, but this study goes beyond the oversimplified classification of political ads.
Political ads are usually classified as either negative or positive, but Wang said “it’s much more dynamic and complex.”
Wang used the example of the famous “Daisy” ad that former President Lyndon B. Johnson used in the 1964 presidential election against his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater. The ad shows a young girl counting flowers. Suddenly the scene freezes and slowly zooms into the girl’s eye as a countdown signals an explosion from a nuclear bomb as the scene changes. The ad was made in response to Goldwater’s stance on nuclear weapons, intending to portray him as an extremist, according to Time Magazine.
Wang said other studies focus on the effect of political ads, but her study focuses on whether viewers are paying attention.
“In order for there to be (an) effect, there needs to be attention,” Wang said. “Just because you’re expose(d), doesn’t mean you’re paying attention.”
The effect of political ads is different for each individual because of what the viewer is feeling and thinking at the moment they watch it, Wang said.
However, many students said they ignore political ads from both parties, particularly for the Nov. 6 election between President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Peter Marzalik, a third-year in international studies and Russian, said he ignores political ads, and thinks they have become “so dirty they don’t even provide legitimate research.”
Marzalik said he considers the ads to be basically 30-second bits of biased information and thinks voters can find better sources to get their information.
Ashley Cochenour, a first-year in exercise science, said she thinks campaign ads have become more negative, which has been a factor in her lack of attention.
“I think there are a lot of times where they’re harsh,” Cochenour said, adding that she usually changes the channel whenever those kinds of ads come on.
According to a Thursday Gallup poll, Obama leads in the presidential race with 50 percent, with Romney trailing slightly behind him at 44 percent.