Have there been any scientific studies that show whether or not spending money on advertising and campaigning has an effect on the outcome of an election? I can think of several elections where the candidates spent a lot but did not win. Are there any studies that show how effective political advertising is?

  • 1
    Not sure if this is evidence enough, but by far, the bigger spender usually wins: washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/04/04/…
    – user1530
    Jan 10, 2018 at 20:00
  • 4
    Correlation is easy to show, but that doesn't equal causation. You don't get votes if people don't think you're the best candidate, but you also don't get donations if people don't think you're the best candidate. And incumbency is correlated with both money and votes.
    – D M
    Jan 10, 2018 at 22:30
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    Also note that not all ads are equal. Some are informative, while others are not. The recent UK snap election was the first national election since I moved to the UK, and I was surprised how much non-informative "vote {Labour,Conservative,UKIP,Green,...}" ads there were, which literally just had that text with no info at all.
    – user11249
    Jan 10, 2018 at 23:33
  • There are studies showing that down ticket races are overwhelmingly influenced by the top of the ticket races, attitudes towards the President, incumbency, and party affiliation, making any campaign spending a second or third order factor, but it is complicated by the fact that people who raise campaign money on both sides act as if the money is well spent whether it makes a difference or not. It is very rare to have someone blow of ads in what could be a close race, even if in fact it doesn't matter, so there is no control group.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 11, 2018 at 13:48
  • @ohwilleke - I thought this would be easy too. Nearly all of the literature on campaign advertising is about the psychological aspects though, not who wins the election. Jan 11, 2018 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


Sure. That is one of the biggest topics which was explored by political scientists in the first half of 20th century. You may want to check works of behavioralists which studied behavior of voters and the influence of political campaigns on them. Check Lazarsfeld`s works for example.

These studies showed that political advertising do not necessarily change voters' mind, they reinforce them (i.e those voters which had their opinions formed before the campaign started). But you may influence views of those people who did not have any strong opinion before electoral campaign.

  • This answer could be improved by citing relevant research and including quotes.
    – Chloe
    Oct 3, 2018 at 17:35

TL;DR it depends on how you define "effective." There have been a fair number that generally speaking try to draw connections between advertising and process measures (i.e. turnout or likelihood of an individual to vote for candidate x), if that is what you mean. Obviously a type of analysis that could relate advertising with probability of victory is hard because of the obscene endogeneity (the candidate that is more likely to win probably has more money to begin with). I would not find such an analysis trying to relate ad spending and probability of victory very compelling because random assignment is more or less impossible and a sample size of "good" candidates who do not spend much is likely very small. This is limited to the U.S.

The main way advertising can be "effective" is by increasing turnout either by making a (usually House or Senate) candidate more known or getting people to care more (which is a major goal of negative ads). The evidence is mixed. Using NES data of the 2000 election, Freedman et. al. and Hillygus find significant (practically and statistically) effects, especially among certain demographics. Note that this is survey data and subject to, for example, recall bias. Malloy and Pearson-Merkowitz analyzed evidence from the Wisconsin Advertising Project for the Gubernatorial, Senatorial, and Presidential elections 1996 - 2008 and find that negative ads don't help but positive ads may help someone who is already ahead.

From what I can glean from that evidence, I find the thesis of Franz and Ridout rather compelling and consistent with most of the analysis. Specifically, advertising seems to have large effects on those who have less political knowledge, but limited effects on the politically engaged.

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