You! At least I’m going on the assumption that if you are reading this blog, you are fairly politically sophisticated. A friend of mine had a really nice summary of his research on the matter written up in his University newspaper:
Contrary to popular belief, recent research reveals that high sophisticates are actually more emotionally responsive to political advertising than low sophisticates.
Patrick R. Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, is one of the first people to argue this point…
Political psychologists have found it’s an evolutionary instinct of living beings to be attentive to threat. When they’re threatened, they’re more attentive and, therefore, learn more, he said.
Attack ads are more educational to an average citizen than positive ads because there are usually more facts in the negative ads, Miller said.
Political advertising companies are aware that people are hard-wired to pay more attention to negative information, he said.
Miller conducted a controlled lab-experiment survey using political news stories on the issue of illegal immigration. The ads were from the 2000 presidential election.
Miller manipulated the messages that each group was potentially exposed to. The emotions that the messages appealed to were sympathy and anger toward illegal immigrants, and the groups were only shown one of the two messages.
The experiment showed people responded to the information they received with the emotion consistent with the message they were given — those who received information sympathetic to illegal immigrants responded strongly with sympathy, and those who received information expressing anger toward illegal immigrants responded strongly with anger.
“The people who were most likely to experience [emotion] were the people that were most sophisticated, and by sophisticated, [I] mean the most knowledgeable about politics, the most interested in politics, the most attentive to politics,” Miller said.
In addition to responding with a targeted emotion, people are selective about which ads they are attentive to, Miller said.
People respond to ads that align with their partisan identification.
I do think it is probably useful to be aware of your own biased predispositions when watching political ads. I would suggest that rather than giving credence to the arguments of the other sides’ ads, probably just remember your side is lying to. And don’t get emotional– that’s what they want you to do .