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Courting the Women’s Vote: The Emotional, Cognitive, and Persuasive Effects of Gender-Based Appeals in Campaign Advertisements

Abstract

In this paper, we examine the ways in which citizens emotionally react to and cognitively process campaign advertisements that contain group-based appeals. Specifically, we focus on the emotional, cognitive, and persuasive effects of three campaign ads aired during the 2012 election campaign that contained explicit appeals to women voters. We analyze differences across women and men in their emotional responses to the ads, in their reports of the memorability of the ads, in their cognitive engagement with the ads, and in how persuasive the ads were for vote choice. In so doing, we add nuance to studies of gender and campaigns and contribute to the expanding literature on the impact of strategic campaign communications.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Data and script files needed to replicate the results have been deposited in the Political Behavior Dataverse.

  2. 2.

    We confine our analyses to white respondents only. In-depth examinations of the intersections of race, ethnicity, and gender are worth pursuing but outside the purview of the present study.

  3. 3.

    Storyboards and full text appear in the Online Appendix in the Political Behavior Dataverse. The proportion of ads crafted to appeal to women is about 10 % in our study. In a separate content analysis, we examined a set of 267 ads released during the 2012 campaign and found that about 6 % were crafted to appeal to women.

  4. 4.

    Although positive and negative emotions need not be highly correlated nor fall on a single dimension (see, e.g., Watson et al. 1988), in this case, they are (r = −0.35). Factor analysis of the five emotional reactions suggests a single dominant factor (with eigenvalue of 2.34; the second factor’s eigenvalue trailed far behind at 0.84). The magnitude of the factor loadings is roughly comparable across emotions, with the two positive and three negative emotions providing evidence of oppositely signed loadings. To create our valence measure, we generate a difference score that subtracts the average negative valence from the average positive valence.

  5. 5.

    For the pro-Obama comparison ads, we analyze responses to four positive pro-Obama ads (Succeed, The Choice, Clear Choice, Determination). For the anti-Obama comparison ads, we analyze responses to nine ads (Doing Fine, Shame on You, Hit, Right Choice, America Deserves, Forward, Failing, Too Many Americans, Eastwood).

  6. 6.

    All control variables are coded to range from 0 to 1. Age ranges from 0 (sample minimum, 18) to 1 (sample maximum, 102). Education takes six values, from 0 (less than high school) to 1 (postgraduate). Household income ranges from 0 (<$20 K) to 1 ($120 K+). Income refused is a dummy for those who refused to report their income. Single is a dummy for respondents who report being single, divorced, or separated.

  7. 7.

    Word counts were calculated in Excel: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/213889.

  8. 8.

    A higher proportion of these comments were raised following the two anti-Obama ads than the pro-Obama ads, also suggesting that respondents may have been critical not simply in the cooptation of needs but in the credibility of the Republican Party in claiming its ability to address those needs.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank W. James Booth for helpful advice and acknowledge financial support from Vanderbilt University for the data collection. Archer acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant Numbers 0909667 and 1445197.

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Correspondence to Cindy D. Kam.

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Kam, C.D., Archer, A.M.N. & Geer, J.G. Courting the Women’s Vote: The Emotional, Cognitive, and Persuasive Effects of Gender-Based Appeals in Campaign Advertisements. Polit Behav 39, 51–75 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-016-9347-7

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Campaigns
  • Campaign advertisements