Favorability

Americans Skeptical About What They See in Political Ads

Rate this year's ads slightly more negatively than in 2002

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds that Americans are highly skeptical of what they see in ads for political candidates, and describe most of the ads they have seen as negative. Americans living in states with competitive 2006 statewide elections are more likely to rate the ads they have seen as negative than are those living in states without hotly contested elections. There is not much consensus as to whether ads sponsored by the candidates or ads sponsored by issue-advocacy groups on behalf of candidates are more trustworthy.

Americans' Views of Political Ads

The Oct. 6-8 poll finds that Americans believe very little, if anything, of "what is said in commercials for or against political candidates." Sixty-nine percent say they do not believe much (49%) or anything (20%) they see in political ads. Only 5% say they believe all or almost all of what is said, while an additional 23% believe a fair amount of the content.

Generally, Americans across all demographic and political groups express a great deal of skepticism about what they see in political ads. However, opinions do differ based on whether Americans think most ads they have seen are positive or negative. Among those who describe most of the ads they have seen as positive, 45% believe at least a fair amount of what those ads say. In contrast, just 23% of those who regard most ads they have seen as negative say they believe at least a fair amount of what those ads say.

The vast majority of Americans fall into this negative camp -- 63% describe "most of the television commercials that [they] have seen for candidates" as negative (including 28% who say the ads are very or extremely negative), while just 26% say the ads have been mostly positive. When the same question was asked during the 2002 midterm election campaign, Americans had a slightly more favorable evaluation of political ads, with 35% describing most ads they had seen as positive and 58% as negative.

Often, the nature of the race determines the tone of the ads, with ads likely to be more negative -- not to mention more frequent -- in competitive campaigns. An analysis of the data shows that Americans residing in states where there is a competitive Senate election this year are more likely to describe the ads they've seen as negative than are those residing in states without a competitive Senate race. The same holds true, but to a lesser degree, for those residing in states with a competitive gubernatorial election this year.

Accordingly, those residing in states with a competitive Senate or gubernatorial race are more likely to say the ads they have seen are negative (70% negative, 20% positive) than are those in states without a competitive statewide election (57% negative, 31% positive).

Candidate vs. Issue-Advocacy Group Ads

Independent issue-advocacy groups are new players in the political ad game. These groups are not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Parties, or with specific candidates, but do run commercials in favor of or against one of the candidates. The most famous example is the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" group, which launched a series of ads in 2004 questioning accounts of John Kerry's reported heroism in the Vietnam War.

The public does not have a strong view on whether the ads run by candidates, or ads run by political advocacy groups on behalf of candidates, are more trustworthy. Twenty-seven percent say the candidates' ads are more trustworthy, 20% the advocacy groups, and 41% say they are equally trustworthy.

Conservatives (32%) are more likely than liberals (17%) to say the ads run by candidates are more trustworthy, while liberals are more likely than conservatives to say this about the advocacy groups' ads (29% to 17%).

The State of Political Ads

In general, Americans have a sour view of political advertising. Yet negative ads remain an ever-present part of political campaigns. This would suggest that despite the public's distaste for the ads, campaign professionals believe (or perhaps have evidence) that these ads are effective at garnering support for their candidates and decreasing support for their opponents.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 6-8, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

29. Would you say most of the television commercials that you have seen for candidates for political office this year are -- [ROTATED: extremely positive, very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, very negative, (or) extremely negative]?


Extremely
positive


Very
posi-
tive

Some-
what
posi-
tive

Some-
what
nega-
tive


Very
nega-
tive


Extremely
negative


No
opin-
ion

2006 Oct 6-8

1%

3

22

35

16

12

11

2002 Oct 21-22

2%

3

30

31

17

10

7

30. Generally speaking, how much of what is said in commercials for or against political candidates do you believe -- all or almost all, a fair amount, not much, or nothing at all?

All or
almost all

Fair
amount

Not
much

Nothing
at all

No
opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

5%

23

49

20

3

31. As you may know, some of the commercials in favor of political candidates are sponsored by the candidates themselves, and some are sponsored by advocacy groups. Which comes closer to your view - [ROTATED: the commercials sponsored by the candidates are more trustworthy, the commercials are about equally trustworthy, or the commercials sponsored by advocacy groups are more trustworthy]?

Candidates'
commercials
more
trustworthy


Equally
trustworthy

Advocacy
groups'
commercials
more
trustworthy

No
opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

27%

41

20

12

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/25093/Americans-Skeptical-About-What-They-See-Political-Ads.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030