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Americans call Obama's campaign ads inspirational

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: June 06, 2008

Americans who watched the nation's longest and most expensive presidential primary fight unfold on television this year thought Democratic winner Barack Obama had the most inspirational ads of any candidate.

They thought Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton used the most negative ads.

And, in a close call, they thought Republican winner John McCain had the most honest ads, according to a survey of 1,003 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

Obama's ads tended to focus on themes of change and renewal, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin's Advertising Project. Obama personally narrated 70 percent of his TV spots. His ads used the word "change" 39 percent of the time, more than any other candidate.

It was a successful technique. Forty-one percent of the people in the Scripps poll thought Obama had the primary season's most inspirational ads, compared to 11 percent who praised Clinton and 12 percent for McCain. More than a third were undecided.

Clinton, however, produced one of the most controversial and widely quoted ads in the campaign: A telephone rings at the White House at 3 a.m. and a narrator asks which candidate has the experience to handle difficult problems. It was a dig at Obama's youth and relative inexperience.

Forty-three percent of the people in the poll thought Clinton had the campaign season's most negative ads, compared to 13 percent for Obama and only 9 percent for McCain. The rest were undecided.

Adults in the poll said the political ads they watched so far this year have been far less negative than the spots used in the aggressive, sometimes acrimonious general election fight between President Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. By more than a 2-1 margin, they thought the 2004 campaign ads were more negative than what has been aired so far in 2008.

During most of the campaign, McCain's ads focused on defense policy and the Iraq war, according to the University of Wisconsin study. These themes probably helped boost McCain's rating for honesty. In the poll 24 percent thought McCain's ads were the most honest, compared to 22 percent for Obama and 9 percent for Clinton. But 45 percent were undecided.

Fundraising and spending during the primary season have been unprecedented, according to Federal Election Commission. The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates had raised $910 million by the end of April, a figure that nearly matches 2004 campaign spending in the primary and general elections combined.

Only 28 percent those polled said they'd seen 10 or fewer campaign ads, while 41 percent said they'd sat through 11 to 100 ads and 21 percent watched more than 100 ads this year. The remaining 10 percent were uncertain how many ads they'd seen.

The survey was conducted by telephone at Ohio University's Scripps Survey Research Center from May 11-28. The poll was funded through a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The overall survey has a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.