Political Ads: More Popular than Geico’s Irritating Spokesreptile

As you might guess, TV viewers often give Apple’s visually engaging ads a pass from the DVR. How about political ads? Even though everyone claims to not like politicians, they’re apparently more welcome on the TV than that omnipresent, insufferable little gecko.

I’m not sure whether this is worse news for politicians or Geico:

political ad avoidance

A group of political scientists, led by Simon Jackman of Stanford, ran a Showtime at the Apollo test on different types of advertising, which gave test viewers the ability to call in the Sandman with their remotes. The short answer? Americans like politicians more than the irritating little Geico gecko, but less than watching trucks or dancing iPod shuffles:

The takeaway: individuals are filtering the content they see during commercial breaks. The panelists in our study avoid 66% of the Geico Insurance commercials they encounter—so, could switching to Geico really save you 15% or more on…NEXT! In contrast, viewers avoid only 17% of the Apple commercials they encounter. Political advertisements fall in the middle – viewers avoid approximately 42% of the political ads they encounter.

But who turns them off? Moderate-engagement voters, theoretically the ones that campaigns want to reach.

What kinds of people avoid political ads? The figure below indicates that high and low engagement citizens rarely avoid political ads. Access to technology plays an important role here. Viewers ability to skip an ad is correlated with political engagement – in 2006, 67% of the highly engaged panelists had TIVO or DVR equipment, while only 28% of the least engaged do.

Rather, it is those viewers who are moderately politically engaged who avoid more than half of the ads they come into contact with. Since the low engagement voters probably will not turn out to vote anyway and the high engagement voters likely made up their minds long ago – it is bad news for the candidates that the group they most need to sway is the group most likely to censor them.

Low-engagement voters basically don’t avoid the ads, since, theoretically, most of them can’t. But the definition of “engaged” is fairly narrow: “strength of party ID” and “relative news preference,” which is an odd equation that divides interest in political-talk and radio programming by interest in music, political talk, sports talk, news, and “other” talk-show radio programming. In other words, it’s not a direct measure of voter participation. I know plenty of politically engaged people whose interest in political radio programming is equal to that of the protagonist in Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” especially the dismal world of political talk. Low engagement, by this measure, might be an okay proxy for voting, but that gap between what it captures and what it doesn’t is a critical margin. And if low-engagement voters are the least likely to silence political ads, that might be a good sign for political shops.

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