Empirical Political Marketing Research

As part of our recent Customer Needs and Solutions political marketing issue Mitch Lovett, a professor at the University of Rochester, describes key issues in empirical political marketing research.

He outlines key data sources such as the (US) National Election Studies and polls. When voting behaviour/intentions can be combined with another source of data – such as television viewership — this allows for some exciting research questions to be answered. These topics can be classed under major headings such as the impact of advertising, how news coverage influences an election, and, increasingly, the impact of social media. An exciting source of data is field experiments which can be especially useful in helping to better understand the impact of tactical political marketing actions.

One problem Lovett addresses is the challenge of understanding turnout (whether a potential voter actually votes) versus relative choice (when they vote who they vote for). This gets to a big argument with some profound implications for the nature of political parties. Can you win elections by turning out your base or do you have to make yourself as appealing as possible to the median voter? I am pretty cynical about claims that a party will win on turnout — Exhibit A Jeremy Corbyn — that said modeling the separate effects of turnout and median voter appeal can be a great challenge. The big picture strategic questions — will a more to the extreme in our policies motivate voters who don’t usually vote? — can be hard to measure.

More modestly advertising effects can be broken down into these two impacts. “…later work overwhelmingly finds that total advertising has a negligible effect on turnout. …relative candidate choice effects are estimated to be large enough to be pivotal in relatively close races” (Lovett, 2019). Advertising does matter but don’t necessarily expect it to get out those who don’t usually vote.

How then to get people out to vote? Field experiments suggest that “…face-to-face contacts produce measurable turnout effects” (Lovett, 2019). The story is a bit more complex when trying to find effects in more messy secondary data.

There are plenty of important questions in political marketing and data is only becoming more available. Empirical work in this area has an awful lot of potential.

Read: Mitchell Lovett, (2019), Empirical Research on Political Marketing: A Selected Review, Customer Needs and Solutions, December 2019, Volume 6, Issue 3–4, pp 49–56