That “I Approve” Tagline on Political Ads May Have Precisely the Opposite Effect of What Congress Intended

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I’m Rowan Walrath, and I’m an editorial fellow at Mother Jones.

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New research shows that putting the latter type of tagline on a candidate’s advertisement—as required under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold)—actually boosts the credibility of ads attacking a rival’s voting record or policy positions.

“For a couple of reasons, when that tagline is added to political ads, then people believe the content of the ads more,” says study co-author Clayton Critcher, an associate professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “That’s particularly true for ads that people start out with the most skepticism about, which are precisely those ads that [Congress was] trying to discourage: negative ads. So adding the tagline, far from disincentivizing negativity in advertising, has actually made it surprisingly effective by increasing how true those messages seem.”
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