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sources is in degree, not in kind. We are not certain, message-by
message, that televised ads communicate less information than other
sources. Tightly constructed, often with highly supportive visuals, they are a very efficient message form, and the information content of a single ad compares favorably with that of a single television news
Criticisms of advertising oversimplifications have relevance
only when the argument is tied to the fact that less well in formed
voters rely most heavily on the commercial for their political
Without doubt, these voters are most subject to advertising influence. But the nature of this influence is different than commonly assumed. The influence is seldom direct. Instead, information and impressions from ads are filtered through these voters' basic convictions and predispositions. Although their political outlook is not well formed, they know their minds and tend to use advertising information to judge the candidates against these predispositions. " In short, we think political spots help poorly informed voters choose the candidate who best fits their value preferences.
The desirability of political ads becomes, then, a simple question: Is it better to have these voters go to the polls with or without the additional information from ads? We think there is only one answer to this question. With the information.
However, tension exists between this desire to retain advertising
as an information source and the desire to reduce advertising to curb
campaign costs. Theodore A. White has described the high costs of
television campaigns as "a new kind of buy out." White feels that
"the corruption of politics by the need for money for television
time is almost as great as it became under the old-time party bosses
who needed money to buy votes at the saloon."
Sensitive to the need for campaign reform, we would like to
suggest the following about television advertising and its costs:
Candidates can cut spending on televised ads somewhat and
Consideration should be given to providing candidates free
Our evidence indicates that some "wear out" is associated with
televised political advertising. As exposure to televised ads increases,
voters' attention to ads decreases. Also, as ad exposure increases,
positive comments about ads decrease and their negative evaluations
increase. Additionally, our data indicate that voters with moderate
television exposure (one to two hours on an average evening) show
gains in information from ads equal to those with heavy exposure.
Only voters who average less than an hour of prime-time viewing
fail to show substantial effects from advertising exposure. All of
this suggests that candidates could reduce their advertising budgets to some extent or, from a different perspective, that varying levels of advertising spending between candidates do not -- within limits -appreciably disadvantage the candidate spending less money.
Although it is a controversial proposal, we feel that consideration should be given to providing candidates with free time to air televised
Most proposals for free broadcast time argue that the time be given for programs of 15 or 30 minutes in length. The simple fact is, however, that voters show little interest in such programs. These
include highly interested voters committed to the featured candidate.
Most voters dislike seeing their entertainment programming pre-empted
by these comprehensive political presentations and they turn to other channels. However, they will sit through short political spots, from which the informed and uninformed acquire information.
Moreover, it is likely that both candidates and the television industry would agree to free political ads more readily than they would agree to free 15 or 30 minutes broadcasts. Quite obviously, from the way they spend their campaign dollars, candidates prefer televised ads to longer broadcasts. Further, incumbents and frontrunners who have been understandably reluctant to appear on lenghty programs with their opponents have not exhibited the same reluctance to use televised advertising spots. In addition, the television industry is largely opposed to lengthy broadcasts which replace entertainment programming and result in a loss of advertising revenue. However, the industry might back free time for political spots if the time to be reserved for these spots was not taken from regular advertising time allotments but, instead, added to current allotments.
A move to provide free advertising time could be used to curtail certain advertising practices that many critics find objectionable. Free time could be awarded only if candidates agreed to certain stipulations, e.g. the time would have to be used for on-camera candidate presentations of their issue positions.**
* We do think, however, that free time for lengthier political broadcasts is desirable as well. ** There is even room for imagination. Assume, for illustration, that some criteria could be developed to specify the issues to be presented through ads. Within a single ad, then, each candidate's position on the issue could be presented. If five-minute spots were used, each ad would provide a mini-debate which, over many ads shown several times each during a campaign, would provide voters considerable comparative issue information on the candidates.
The information value of ads needs to be recognized, and free time for political spots would have several benefits. Free time would hold down campaign spending, equalize candidate opportunity. and increase the information available to the American electorate. All of these objectives seem desirable.
Other criteria for judging media effects could have been selected: impact on voters' images of the candidates, influence over the importance voters attach to issues, contribution to voters' understanding of events, etc. In future papers, we intend to explore these other aspects.
2 The data come from a stratified sample of voters who were selected by standard area probability techniques from the Syracuse metropolitan area. During the first wave, September 7 through 18, 731 respondents were interviewed. In the second wave, October 7 through 15, 650 respondents were interviewed. In the third wave, October 30 through November 6, 650 of our original respondents were contacted again. Overall, 626 -- or 86 percent -- of the original panel we re interviewed three times prior to the election. This retention rate is extremely high (by way of comparison, the rate for the 3 personal interview waves of the Elmira study conducted by Paul Lazars feld, Bernard Berelson, and william McPhee in 1948 was 72 percent). In addition to the three pre-election personal interviews, each of which lasted about 90 minutes, a short postelection telephone interview was conducted. Of the initial 731 respondents, 692 were contacted for this final interview.
» Qur approach to and measurement of "beliefs" are based on the work of Professor Martin Fishbein. See, e.g. Martin Fishbein. "A Consideration of Beliefs and Their Role in Attitude Measurement," in Martin Fishbein (ed), Readings in Attitudes and Measurement (New York: Wiley, 1967).
4 A complete list of issue and handling items included in the panel survey is the following (numbers in parentheses indicate the waves in which each issue was included): military spending (1,2,3), amnesty (2,3), tax rates (1,3), government spending (1,2,3), law and order (1,2,3), more control over government for working people (2,3), Vietnam withdrawal (1,2,3), making people on welfare go to work (1,3), honoring our committments to other nations (1,2,3). busing (1,3), government guaranteed jobs (1,2,3), wiping out political corruption and favoritism (2,3), government programs for Negroes (1), holding down inflation (1), government paid medical care (1), guaranteed annual income (1), government support for parochial schools (2). The handling items were included in all three waves and were as follows: China, Russia, inflation, unemployment, law and order, race relations, drugs, and Vietnam War.
Those items which involve voters' evaluations of Nixon's handling of various policy areas were not measured using LIKELY-UNLIKELY scales. Instead, GOOD-BAD scales were used because they more precisely capture the nature of voters' evaluations of the performance of an incumbent President.
Our respondents tended to overreport their exposure to television news. Substantially less than 50 percent of America's adult population watches the television news on four or more nights per week.