Campaigning for Hearts and Minds: How Emotional Appeals in Political Ads Work / Edition 1

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It is common knowledge that televised political ads are meant to appeal to voters' emotions, yet little is known about how or if these tactics actually work. Ted Brader's innovative book is the first scientific study to examine the effects that these emotional appeals in political advertising have on voter decision-making. 

At the heart of this book are ingenious experiments, conducted by Brader during an election, with truly eye-opening results that upset conventional wisdom. They show, for example, that simply changing the music or imagery of ads while retaining the same text provokes completely different responses. He reveals that politically informed citizens are more easily manipulated by emotional appeals than less-involved citizens and that positive "enthusiasm ads" are in fact more polarizing than negative "fear ads." Black-and-white video images are ten times more likely to signal an appeal to fear or anger than one of enthusiasm or pride, and the emotional appeal triumphs over the logical appeal in nearly three-quarters of all political ads.

Brader backs up these surprising findings with an unprecedented survey of emotional appeals in contemporary political campaigns. Politicians do set out to campaign for the hearts and minds of voters, and, for better or for worse, it is primarily through hearts that minds are won. Campaigning for Hearts and Minds will be indispensable for anyone wishing to understand how American politics is influenced by advertising today.

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Editorial Reviews


“Brader guides the reader through the study of political advertising and makes the case that although many studies have been done, few have systematically analyzed the role of emotion in political campaigns. The author seeks to close this gap through the content analysis of more than 1,400 political ads and an experimental investigation of the effect different type of ads have upon citizens. His work is both timely and original. The findings suggest that negatively charged ads cause citizens to conduct more research on their own. Enthusiastic appeals work to motivate committed voters to political action on behalf of their candidate.”
Political Studies Review
The methodology, data and argument are presented in a clear, easily accessible and informative manner while maintaining academic rigour. . . . A welcome addition.

— Tobias Jung

Samuel L. Popkin

“Ted Brader has written an illuminating analysis of the emotional basis of political advertising and the strategic calculus guiding politicians’ use of ads appealing to enthusiasm and fear. His counterintuitive research findings overturn conventional wisdom and show that positive ads can polarize and negative can inform.”--Samuel L. Popkin, author of The Reasoning Voter
Donald Green

“Written in an accessible and engaging style, Campaigning for Hearts and Minds exposes the gap between political practice, in which emotional appeals in advertising are commonplace, and political science, which, in its fascination with cognition, content, and strategic reasoning, has all but neglected them. This book tests, for the first time, basic propositions about how emotional appeals affect voters’ preferences and behavior. It reminds us of the practical significance of social science and of the theoretical significance of solid experimental results.”--Donald Green, coauthor of Partisan Hearts and Minds


George E. Marcus

“Brader brings experimental methods to the study of television political campaign ads for real candidates in a real election campaign. His detailed exploration uncovers a rich array of findings that challenges many conventional beliefs about how campaign ads impact voters. Campaigning for Hearts and Minds is a rich, lucid exploration of many old and new accounts that makes an important and timely contribution for scholars and practitioners alike.”--George E. Marcus, author of The Sentimental Citizen


Michael MacKuen

“A terrific book. Brader takes contemporary political psychology to campaign ads and discovers something novel in the process. Emotions matter—but not in the ways we commonly suppose. Brader’s book breaks our reliance on that easy understanding and forces us to think more consciously about how images, emotions, cognitions, and political choices are bound together.”--Michael MacKuen, coauthor of Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment


Political Studies Review - Tobias Jung

"The methodology, data and argument are presented in a clear, easily accessible and informative manner while maintaining academic rigour. . . . A welcome addition."

“Brader guides the reader through the study of political advertising and makes the case that although many studies have been done, few have systematically analyzed the role of emotion in political campaigns. The author seeks to close this gap through the content analysis of more than 1,400 political ads and an experimental investigation of the effect different type of ads have upon citizens. His work is both timely and original. The findings suggest that negatively charged ads cause citizens to conduct more research on their own. Enthusiastic appeals work to motivate committed voters to political action on behalf of their candidate.”
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ted Brader is assistant professor of political science and faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
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Read an Excerpt

Campaigning for Hearts and Minds
How Emotional Appeals in Political Ads Work

By TED BRADER The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2006
The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-06988-3

Chapter One Appealing to Hopes and Fears

All sorts of propaganda rely on emotional appeals to get their message across.... In 1940, such [appeals] were found in virtually every sentence of campaign propaganda. Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet (scholars, 1944)

[M]ost ads-political and otherwise-are designed to appeal more to your emotions than your intellect. They have become the prime forum in which candidates attack and respond, convey image and information, and woo voters.... Ads that provoke fear, anxiety, disgust are part of the political stock-in-trade. Patricia Lopez Baden (journalist, 1998)

"It's morning again in America."

The words are simple and yet, for some, they call forth a kaleidoscope of colorful landscapes filled with smiling, industrious, and patriotic citizens. They also may summon buried feelings of nostalgia, or perhaps revulsion. Not everyone reacts this way, of course. You had to have been alive, mildly invested in the political future of the United States, and inclined to watch television in 1984. President Ronald Reagan ran for reelection on a theme of "morning in America" that was memorably conveyed in a series of television ads throughout the year. The message of the ads was not difficult to grasp: The country is doing better than it was four years ago, so you should stick with "leadership that's working." It is a lucid and sensible argument for reelection.

A bigger mystery, given what political scientists know about the effects of political ads, is why the Reagan campaign felt compelled to package such a clear message in a gloss of music and pictures. Reagan, a gifted communicator, could have delivered the words effectively himself; the simplicity of the message surely suited his plain-spoken manner. As it is, the narrator's voice blends into the visual and musical rhythms of the ads, inviting viewers to absorb the message more as a feeling than as an argument. If there were little evidence to support the claims the ads make, their goal could be distraction and deception. This does not appear to be the case. There were indications at the time of an improving economy and restored public morale consistent with the conditions that generally forecast success for incumbent politicians. So why not dispense with all the hoopla and just say it?

This book offers an answer. Contemporary political advertising is saturated with emotional appeals, and the consultants who make the ads believe these appeals matter. As I show in the chapters that follow, the motivational and persuasive power of campaign advertising depends considerably on whether an ad appeals to fear or enthusiasm. But the effects are more complicated than conventional notions of positive and negative ads imply. We must understand the psychology underlying the responses of viewers to appreciate how such appeals work. This book offers a theoretical account of the way in which campaign ads use images and music to trigger emotions, along with an empirical demonstration that these cues indeed influence the participation and choices of citizens. With that in mind, I also explore how often and in what circumstances politicians target emotions with their ad campaigns.

The notion that politicians routinely appeal to the emotions of voters when they campaign for public office is unlikely to be controversial. Journalists, political consultants, politicians, scholars, and ordinary citizens all seem to take this for granted. But many would be surprised to discover that we know almost nothing about how emotions figure into the effects of campaign advertising. There has been a sense that emotion matters, but little effort to back this up with evidence. From the 1950s to the 1970s, two intellectual trends conspired to foster this neglect at roughly the time that televised advertising was on the rise in politics. First, students of politics and communication concluded that mass media and election campaigns exert minimal influence on citizens. Second, the cognitive revolution in psychology deemphasized the role of "affect" in human decisionmaking, and social scientists of all stripes largely left emotions out of their explanations. All the while, political ads relying heavily on emotional appeals were steadily becoming the dominant tool in most major election campaigns.

By the 1980s, emotionally laden advertising was a centerpiece in campaign strategies (Kern 1989), and ambitious new research began reversing both intellectual trends from preceding decades. Scholars launched a new wave of research into the effects of the media. By drawing on a wider range of theories and methods, they were able to uncover compelling evidence that the priorities and evaluations of citizens can be significantly altered by what they see on television (Kinder 2003). New studies testifying to the effectiveness of political advertising followed in the 1990s. Meanwhile, psychologists had "rediscovered" emotions and were inspiring others to follow suit. By the late 1990s, political scientists had assembled considerable evidence that public opinion is shaped by the moods, feelings, or emotions of citizens (Marcus 2000). All of this recent work laid a promising foundation for explaining the role of emotions in campaign communication.

But why should we bother? First, it is difficult to imagine that something so widely and evidently a part of everyday politics is inconsequential. Although politicians execute their plans with varying degrees of success, they seem to regard as self-evident that effective political appeals are also emotional appeals. In the 2004 election, candidates and groups were at it again, although the dominant emotions were markedly different than they had been twenty years earlier. Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination and the unprecedented advertising campaigns of liberal "527" groups focused on fomenting anger toward President George W. Bush for the war in Iraq. In the general election, Democratic candidate John Kerry and the president both appealed heavily to fears over issues such as outsourcing of jobs, rising health care costs, the possibility of a draft, and especially terrorism. Journalists and other observers judged it to be the most emotional and fear-driven campaign in decades. A mid-October New York Times report headlined "Scary Ads Take Campaign to a Grim New Level" noted these tactics were not limited to the presidential race. Political scientist and commentator Darrell West remarked, "I'm not sure we've seen a campaign with so many explicit plays to emotion. What we're seeing this year are direct plays to fear and anxiety." Students of politics are obliged to ascertain whether something so commonplace as attempts to stir emotion matter-that is, the extent to which these emotional appeals actually influence citizens.

Second, the practice of appealing to emotions raises normative questions for democratic politics. Where emotional appeals are used, there too we can find criticism of politicians for "preying on the hopes and fears" of the public. Observers condemn such appeals as manipulative and view emotion as an inferior basis for decisionmaking. Critics often reserve their greatest scorn for fear appeals like those that pervaded campaigns in 2004, saying they are "unworthy of the men who would call themselves our leaders." These objections have deep cultural roots in the idea that people ought to suppress emotion in favor of logic and reason. Recently, scholars of emotion have challenged these traditional views (Damasio 1994; Marcus 2002). Our judgments concerning what is right or wrong about appeals to emotion should be based on scientific knowledge regarding their effects on the process of political communication. While normative questions require more than empirical answers, our capacity to apply our values properly depends on a solid understanding of the facts, which in this case amounts to an understanding of how emotional appeals work (Masters 1994).

In this book, I present results from the first systematic study to test the effects of emotional appeals in campaign advertising. Before outlining the book's plan, I should clarify precisely what I mean by "emotional appeals."

The Primacy of Packaging

Political ads almost always contain simple messages. They typically recite a brief list of reasons to back up their main argument, which amounts to: "You should vote for this candidate, not the other guy." One of the principal ways in which the ads differ is the extent to which they focus on reasons for supporting a candidate, opposing a candidate, or both. They also vary in what sorts of reasons are mentioned-policy positions ("issues"), leadership qualities ("character"), performance in office ("the record"), relevant experience, and endorsements. Most studies of political advertising have focused on these sorts of differences in the tone and verbal messages.

But political ads, like product commercials, usually contain more than words. They are full of pictures, sounds, and music. Why are simple messages packaged with this nonverbal fanfare? It could be that these features make ads more entertaining and thus encourage an otherwise disinterested public to watch. Even so, it is doubtful that people who are not already political junkies find much entertainment in political ads. The music and images accomplish something more than merely enhancing the pleasure of the viewing experience. They make the ad compelling by eliciting specific emotions and, in doing so, change the way viewers respond to the message of the ad.

This attempt to stir the feelings of the audience while delivering a political message is what I refer to as an "emotional appeal." The overall emotional impact of the ad is produced by the conjunction of words, music, and images in a narrative structure. The words are nearly indispensable to the message because they more sharply delimit its meaning, but the music and images are meant first and foremost to stir emotions. Imagery and music do not compete with or substitute for the verbal message, but they sharpen its effectiveness by altering how the message is received.

This study is particularly concerned with the impact of those emotionally evocative, nonverbal elements of campaign ads. Before describing that study, I want to remind readers of how these emotional ads look and sound. Although similar advertising styles characterize almost all major state and federal elections (Kern 1989), the following discussion draws examples from presidential ad campaigns because they provide a model that others follow and a greater proportion of readers will have had an opportunity to see these ads for themselves at one time or another. I focus on ads that may be considered archetypes of two common types of appeals at root in the contrast between the reelection campaigns of 1984 and 2004. The first are ads that appeal to hope and enthusiasm, the second are ads that appeal to fear. We should also consider how these sorts of ads differ from those that appeal only weakly, if at all, to emotions. In making these distinctions, I am not offering an exhaustive typology of emotional appeals. Ads can and do appeal to other emotions (e.g., anger, pride, sympathy, amusement) that may or may not be similar in their appearance and impact to those already mentioned. As a first step, however, my focus here and more generally in this book is on appeals to enthusiasm and fear.

I also want to clarify at the outset how I am using emotion labels such as "enthusiasm appeal" and "fear ad" throughout this book. An emotion is not technically a property of an ad, but rather a response that the ad may or may not elicit from those who view it (see chapter 3). In many cases, a single ad may elicit more than one emotion from a single person (e.g., fear as well as anger) or different emotions from different people (e.g., enthusiasm from some people, disgust from others). In both everyday language and scholarship, however, there is a convention of using labels to describe the emotion that something conveys or elicits in its intended audience-for example, fear appeals, sad music, sympathy cards, horror movies, and hopeful signs. In an effort to make this book more widely accessible, I follow the standard practice by labeling ads, appeals, and audiovisual cues according to the emotion( s) they seem primarily aimed to evoke in the target audience. Nonetheless, we must take care to distinguish this labeling convention from the actual emotional impact of the ad.

Feel-Good Ads: Appeals to Hope and Enthusiasm

Ads in the Morning in America campaign represent a common form of advertising often called "feel-good" spots by consultants. As this name implies, feel-good spots try to shape reception of the ad's message by eliciting positive emotions such as hope, enthusiasm, and perhaps even pride. It is commonly held that such ads aim to win the affection of voters for the sponsoring or supported candidate. But matters are not that simple. In fact, as we shall see later, feel-good ads-or "enthusiasm ads," as I label them-can be just as effective at driving opposing viewers away in disgust. Their true power lies in stoking the desire to get involved and reinforcing existing loyalties.

How do these ads stir hope and enthusiasm? They rely principally on music and images to generate an emotional response. Ads in the Morning in America series are accompanied by a piano and orchestra playing a soft, uplifting tune. It is the kind of music one expects from a movie soundtrack that invokes sentimental or nostalgic themes (e.g., Field of Dreams or A River Runs Through It). Images from an idyllic "town not too far from where you live" serve as the primary backdrop for the ads. Men and women go to work in fields and factories, displaying pride in what they accomplish. A young couple is getting married, as an older couple walks hand-in-hand down Main Street sharing an ice cream cone. Families are moving into new homes and buying new cars. Children line a parade route waving American flags. Flags in fact are everywhere, and smiling faces too.

Morning in America set the standard for enthusiasm-eliciting political advertising and remains largely unparalleled for its combination of evocative symbolism and minimal discussion of politics. However, this general style of ad is extremely common and has been mimicked by presidential candidates and those pursuing other offices ever since. Figure 1.1 shows just a few examples of the images frequently used in feel-good or enthusiasm ads. The musical score is invariably uplifting, whether it strikes chords of sentimentality or patriotism. Other sound effects occasionally appear in the form of laughter, applause, or even the roar of a jet in ads emphasizing military strength. Visuals are typically rich in color with warm light and soft edges. Scenes portray happy families and economic prosperity against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes. National pride is cued not only through flags but also by people in uniform, navy vessels and military aircraft, political and natural monuments, and ceremonies honoring fallen soldiers.

Fear Ads

Although the Morning in America spots are considered classics of political advertising, they are neither the best known among all ads nor even the most memorable from the 1984 election campaign. The distinction in each case falls to a dramatically different sort of ad. Perhaps the most (in)famous ad ever is the Daisy ad aired by President Lyndon Johnson's reelection team in 1964, which sought to stoke fears of nuclear war. Similarly, the most memorable spot of the 1984 election, according to polls at the time, was the Bear ad, which also struck a Cold War theme by suggesting that a strategy of deterrence through military strength was the best way to deal with the risk of Soviet aggression.

Fear ads of this sort are another staple of modern election campaigns. Although they are not necessarily more common than feel-good spots, they often garner more attention. Their purpose is just as clear-namely, to awaken or fuel the anxieties of the viewing public. Some observers believe the goal of fear ads is to cause voters to associate their fears and disgust with the opponent. This conventional notion makes sense only for "attack ads," a particular type of negative ad devoted to criticizing the opposing candidate. Although a large proportion of attack ads use fear appeals, not all fear ads explicitly criticize an opponent. Regardless, the conventional view proves too simplistic for fear ads as well. As new evidence reveals, their true power lies in stimulating attentiveness to relevant information and encouraging people to rethink their choices.


Excerpted from Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by TED BRADER Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

1 Appealing to hopes and fears 1
2 The art and science of campaigning 17
3 The political psychology of emotional appeals 48
4 Emotion and the motivational power of campaign ads 73
5 Emotion and the persuasive power of campaign ads 109
6 Emotional appeals in ad campaigns 147
7 Hearts and minds : rethinking the role of emotion in political life 177
App. A Experiments : question wording and sample 199
App. B Multivariate statistical analyses : full results 209
App. C Advertising content analysis : coding rules 213
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