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Political ads and ambivalence

October 21, 2008 |  4:33 pm

Did you know there was a journal called Political Psychology? Well, there is and it's all about exploring the interrelationship between psychology and political processes.

Obama2 In its October issue, a study in the journal finds that voters from heavily contested battleground states, like Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia, are more confused than voters in states that are strongly red or blue.

The study was based on survey responses from what seems like ancient history, the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In addition to examining the survey results for that election, from the American National Election Studies, researchers from the University of Michigan conducted 1,800 face-to-face interviews with people who voted in 2000.

What they found was that the more voters were exposed to dueling ads, as candidates concentrated Mccain2 their efforts in the up-for-grabs states, the more ambivalent the voters became.

"In battleground states especially, both candidates will invest a lot of money in television commercials. So people in these states are getting a lot of competing messages from both candidates and that translates into voters in these states wrestling with conflicting ideas," said Luke Keele, in a news release. He is a co-author of the study and assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University. "But if you live in a state that is not competitive, you're probably seeing one-sided messages from a single candidate or few messages at all, so you're less likely to be ambivalent. So the state in which you live can influence your decisions."

With or without a deluge of political ads, ambivalence levels dropped among people who lived in neighborhoods where one candidate dominated. So if you're undecided and there are a lot of McCain signs on your street, or if your block is saturated with Obama signs, you're less likely to waiver, more likely to jump on the locally popular bandwagon, researchers found.

But being swayed, or confused, by an onslaught of political ads is less likely among people who have party ties, or who have already made up their minds.

The ad-producing ambivalence effect is most pronounced on those pesky undecided voters -- folks who at this late stage of the 2008 race are the main targets of political ads.

-- Susan Brink

Upper photo: Ad image provided by McCain campaign. Credit: AP Photo.

Lower photo: Ad image provided by Obama campaign. Credit: AP Photo