Ad-Rating Project Will Assess Campaign TV Spots by Asking Voters

Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama at an electronics shop in Wheaton, Maryland.

Those of us who analyze and fact-check television ads in the 2012 campaign do so without really knowing what the voting public thinks of them.

It’s a question that researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and YouGov, a global market research company, hope to answer with a new “Ad-Rating Project” that will ask viewers what they think about political TV spots.

“Rather than guessing whether they’re fair or unfair, let’s ask the public” about ads, Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer said today at a Brookings Institution panel on campaign advertising.

The project will “identify controversial and game-changing ads,” with the assistance of Republican media consultant Fred Davis, Geer said. It will show ads to a sample of 600 Americans contacted online each week through YouGov, which has built a pool of about 2 million potential respondents recruited since 2004 through Internet advertising.

Respondents will register reactions, such as whether the ads made them hopeful or disgusted and whether they were memorable or untruthful. The surveys will include oversamples of 200 independents because “Republicans like Republican ads and Democrats like Democratic ads,” Geer said. Results will be posted on the project’s website within 36 hours after Vanderbilt researchers send an ad to YouGov for surveying.

The project already has asked people about 10 spots, including one from President Barack Obama’s campaign that shows Republican challenger Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful” as it accuses him of outsourcing U.S. jobs overseas. About 38 percent of respondents said the ad was untruthful, including 37 percent of independents, 12 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of Republicans. About 50 percent described the spot as memorable.

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