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Romney scores with ad on Obama's character

August 22, 2012|By David Lauter
  • A screenshot from Mitt Romney's new campaign ad, "America Deserves Better."
A screenshot from Mitt Romney's new campaign ad, "America Deserves… (Romney for President )

A Romney campaign ad that accuses President Obama of underhanded tactics is the first to demonstrate an ability to shift the views of undecided voters, according to a continuing study of campaign advertising.

Political scientist John Geer of Vanderbilt University has been teaming with the YouGov Internet poll to show selected campaign ads to representative samples of 600 voters, with an oversample of 200 self-identified independents, to measure their reactions.

The goal is to add some science to the debate over which ads “work” – a topic that has generally relied on spin from campaign aides and educated guesswork by political reporters.

Geer’s data have shown that some of Obama’s ads had a measurable impact on moving voters away from Romney. One particularly effective ad, the data indicated, featured Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful” as the screen filled with clips of news stories regarding jobs sent overseas by companies controlled by Bain Capital, the firm Romney cofounded.

Romney’s ads, by and large, had not had a similar impact. Because voters have watched Obama for years as president, their views of him are firmly held and difficult to shift, Geer said.

But Romney's “America Deserves Better” ad appears to “score points for Romney,” Geer said. Among “pure independent” voters – people who do not lean toward either party – support for Romney went up by 6 percentage points after watching the ad, he said. The ad attacks Obama over one of the Democratic camp’s own negative ads – a spot produced by the “super PAC” supporting Obama. It recounts the story of a woman who died of cancer several years after her husband was laid off by a steel mill owned by Bain and lost his health insurance. The ad has been widely criticized for appearing to link Romney to the woman’s death.

“It was the first time among all the ads we have studied where a Romney attack moves down the president’s numbers among pure independents,” Geer said.

That contrasted with another much talked-about Romney ad, which attacked Obama for allegedly approving a plan to “gut” welfare reform. The charge is false – the administration has said only that it would consider allowing states some flexibility in how to meet requirements that welfare recipients find work. But the Vanderbilt study indicates that, in addition, the ad also was ineffective in changing the minds of independent voters.

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david.lauter@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidLauter

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