Exclusive survey: Voters slam political ads as ineffective

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Memo to Bush and Kerry: Time to retool your advertising.

According to an exclusive Advertising Age poll conducted by Lightspeed International Research, one-half of respondents said the current round of political ads so far had not influenced their vote and in total, 92% said the ads have not swayed them to change their prospective votes. Moreover, nearly one in four respondents found President Bush's ads to date are not at all persuasive; 29% found Sen. John Kerry's ads not at all persuasive.

The online poll, conducted among 1,653 respondents nationally who have seen ads for both candidates, also breaks out eight battleground states. In the battleground states, which are carrying the bulk of the presidential hopefuls' advertising, both candidates' ads are viewed as even less persuasive (only 17% found Mr. Bush's "very persuasive" vs. 8% for Mr. Kerry). It is possible that Mr. Kerry's poorer showing results from his campaign having been launched later than Mr. Bush's.

While the national results are fully projectable with sampling error of plus or minus 5.2%, state breakouts are indicative but aren't a fully balanced sample.

The majority, 60%, of national respondents said Mr. Bush's ads aren't focusing on issues they care about, and even more, 69%, said Mr. Kerry's ads don't address issues they care about. However, respondents in Florida and West Virginia tended to believe Mr. Bush's ads did so; Mr. Kerry's focus on issues was more positively received in Michigan and Pennsylvania

A full 88% of national respondents said the ads have not changed their opinion about key issues in the race, although domestic issues such as employment and the economy have been more affected than issues such as the Iraq war, education or abortion.

Too Negative

To no one's surprise, two out of three respondents-regardless of state or party-view political ads for the presidential race overall as too negative. And that could work against the candidates, as one-third of respondents said a candidate's negative ads-rather than sway them to vote for that candidate-may actually influence them to avoid voting for them.

Oddly, while ads from the Bush campaign have mostly attacked Mr. Kerry-who has been running mainly biographical spots-poll respondents saw Mr. Kerry's ads as more negative than Mr. Bush's. A full 61% of those surveyed said Mr. Kerry's ads were more negative in the national sample versus 54% for Mr. Bush.

The reason may be that Democratic group like the Media Fund and MoveOn.org have been running anti-Bush attack ads and the comments about the negative Kerry ads apparently reflect those ads rather than those from the campaign itself. In fact, among the general population, respondents were equally split on whether they could distinguish ads between candidates or public interest groups. (Respondents in Florida and Ohio were more likely to be able to distinguish the two.)

battleground states

In some battleground states, however, the results ran counter to the national results. In Michigan and Minnesota, more people found Mr. Bush's ads negative than they did Mr. Kerry's.

Even though the election is a little over five months away, already 55% of respondents believe there is too much political advertising.

They are also largely unimpressed with the largesse. Half of respondents on a national basis said Mr. Bush's ads don't clearly state his position; Mr. Kerry fared worse, with 70% responding that his ads don't clearly do so.

Mr. Kerry's own party respondents, moreover, agreed: Only 45% of Democrats believed that the candidate's ads clearly outlined his positions. Republicans, meanwhile, overwhelmingly (73%) said that Mr. Bush's ads clearly state his positions.

The voters believe the candidates aren't giving them enough information on their track records, either. (Nationally, 55% said Mr. Bush's ads don't; 65% said Mr. Kerry's ads don't).

Independents nationally were more likely to be swayed to vote for Mr. Kerry, 16%, than Mr. Bush, 12%.

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