Study: Facebook Ads Have Little Effect On Political Campaign

By Justin Lafferty 

As Election Day comes closer, you’re likely seeing political ads everywhere you turn — on front lawns, in newspapers, and on television. You’re likely also seeing them on Facebook, and not just for President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. Two researchers studied the Facebook ads placed by a candidate running for a state legislature position, seeing if they helped his name recognition or likeability. Unfortunately, in this case, the Facebook ads barely moved the needle for the candidate.

University of California, Berkeley graduate student David Broockman teamed up with Donald Green, a political science professor at Columbia University in New York, to see if Facebook ads have any effect on a political campaign. To do this, Broockman connected with a politician challenging a longstanding incumbent who was recently reshuffled to a district with a bipartisan composition that is less favorable to him, giving the challenger a chance at victory.

From Oct. 8 through 12, the candidate ran three Facebook ads: one highlighting his qualities as a family man, one showcasing his military and small business credentials, and another showing the candidate’s commitment to farming in the area. Broockman told AllFacebook that the politician spent roughly $200 on these ads, placing a bid of $1.51 per thousand impressions. The ads reached 14,734 Facebook users.

Researchers found that 85 percent of the 2,984 voters who participated in the survey had never heard of the candidate.

Even though 60 percent of the voters saw the candidate’s ads, the study notes that they had almost no bearing on his name recognition or popularity. Among various age brackets, the researchers found out that the ads gave the politician no more than a 1.8 percent bump in name recognition. It’s unknown whether or not the ads led to any voters pledging to vote for the candidate.

Broockman suggested that even though a majority of the people in the study were exposed to the ads, many people simply blocked them out mentally or forgot about the candidate as they clicked to another page.

Broockman discussed the study with AllFacebook:

The possibilities are endless. In the end, we were excited about it, partly because we thought it would be a great way to understand the effects of mass communication of all kinds, and this setting was natural. So often, the studies that are done on Facebook basically have undergraduates sitting in the laboratory with the researchers saying, “Well, what do you think of this?” That’s just not a recipe for understanding how the world works. So we thought this was exciting because we could really impose external control on a real setting and understand what kind of messages have an impact on how people think about the world.

He stressed that this is an isolated case study, and not an indictment of Facebook ads in general. Broockman is excited for the future possibilities of similar studies, testing the power of Facebook advertising on offline attitudes.

Readers: Has a political ad on Facebook ever made you stop and think?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.