Do Shadow Groups Run Our Democracy? How Interest Group Advertising Persuades Voters

UC San Diego
La Jolla, California
Political Science
DOI: 10.18258/6797
Raised of $1,680 Goal
Funded on 4/29/16
Successfully Funded
  • $1,703
  • 101%
  • Funded
    on 4/29/16

About This Project

Who are Americans for Prosperity or American Future Fund? They and other interest groups spend millions of dollars in our elections. I am examining how their ads persuade voters differently than candidates' ads. This study seeks to clarify the power and influence of interest group advertising on voter preferences. This project questions the extent to which political advertising affects congressional elections and has implications for limiting campaign expenditures and interest group influence.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

This project seeks to address how interest groups are playing an increasing role in our elections. Interest group advertising represents a new phenomenon with implications for campaign finance and public policy, and little previous research. We currently have little information on how large or small of a persuasive effect these groups are having on our elections. Voters often have little information about their congressional candidates and so the information they glean from advertising becomes that much more relevant and important to their vote choice. This project measures the new and growing power of interest groups in determining electoral outcomes and the influence of money in our democracy.

What is the significance of this project?

In 2014 over a billion dollars was spent on television advertising. In 2016, because of the presidential race, four billion dollars is expected to be spent on television advertising. What effect is this having on elections? Does it influence who we vote for? This project extends my previous work in examining how candidate advertising persuades. Now, I seek to demonstrate how persuasive interest group ads are compared to candidates' ads. Do voters notice the difference between interest group and candidate ads? Are interest group ads more persuasive than candidates' ads? In light of political polarization, do these interest group ads cause voters to perceive candidates as more ideologically extreme?

What are the goals of the project?

All respondents will view ads from both sides in the election, to better simulate a competitive election environment. The experimental conditions focus on three types of ads: candidate attack ads, party-sponsored attack ads, and interest group attack ads. Interest groups almost exclusively air attack ads. I can then examine how an attack ad by a candidate persuades differently compared to an interest group attack ad. The experiment will use real congressional ads from a past election in order for the ads to be representative of what candidates and interest groups air. If there is a significant difference between the treatment groups then candidates may be benefiting or hurting from murky interest groups and affecting the outcomes of our elections.


Please wait...

All funds go directly to survey respondents and associated fees with the survey company. The surveys will be conducted on Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform, where I have had success in the past with multiple surveys. I will survey 1,200 voters in each survey.

In order to estimate the effect of interest group advertising on vote choice, I will expose potential voters to advertisements and assess how they would vote. Importantly, by conducting a controlled survey experiment I can isolate the effect of advertising on vote choice.

I will conduct the experiment twice to demonstrate that the results replicate with an independent set of respondents and advertisements to ensure no single-ad phenomenon is responsible for my results.

Endorsed by

David's project addresses a very important and timely question regarding the effectiveness of a specific type of campaign advertising that we know very little about. This cost effective project would provide much needed insight on the increasingly significant role that non-party sponsors play in the US elections process.

Meet the Team

David M Searle
David M Searle
Ph.D. Candidate


University of California, San Diego
View Profile

David M Searle

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. My research centers on political communications, political behavior, congressional elections, as well as issues race and ethnicity. My dissertation focuses on the persuasive impact of television advertising in congressional elections. My work focuses on understanding the underlying mechanisms and effects of campaigns on voter behavior. I employ a combination of survey and experimental methodologies to help answer these questions.

Project Backers

  • 12Backers
  • 101%Funded
  • $1,703Total Donations
  • $141.92Average Donation
Please wait...