On the Limits of Persuasion: Campaign Ads and the Structure of Voters’ Interpersonal Discussion Networks

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Political Science



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Political Communication


Political candidates employ campaign advertising in an attempt to persuade, and there is mounting evidence that such efforts can be successful in influencing voters’ decisions at the polls. In this article we explore the limits of the persuasive power of campaign advertising and examine the ways in which voters’ interpersonal discussions shape their susceptibility to persuasion. Foundational works in the study of media effects argued that interpersonal discussions play an important role in the process of mass communications. That is, depending on the composition of the social environment, interpersonal discussions may serve to either reinforce messages received through the mass media or promote resistance to persuasion attempts. In spite of these early insights, little research has explicitly taken into account the combined influence of interpersonal discussion networks and mass-mediated messages on persuasion in the context of a presidential campaign. The present study, by contrast, employs detailed measures of campaign advertising, coupled with information on the nature and composition of voters’ social networks from the 2008–2009 American National Election Studies (ANES) panel study, to examine the moderating influence of citizens’ interpersonal discussions on the effects of televised political advertising.We find that those who are situated within more agreeable networks are more likely to strengthen their candidate preferences and, correspondingly, resist shifting their support to a different candidate when exposed to ads that are consonant with their initial vote choice. Contrary to our expectations, however, there is little evidence that dissonant advertising has any effect when encountered within a social environment studded with disagreement.


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