Targeted Campaign Appeals and the Value of Ambiguity


Eitan D. Hersh and Brian F. Schaffner

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Hersh, Eitan D. and Brian F. Schaffner (2013). Targeted Campaign Appeals and the Value of Ambiguity. The Journal of Politics, 75(2): 520-534. doi:10.1017/S0022381613000182.
Political campaigns increasingly micro-target. Given detailed knowledge of voters’ identities, campaigns try to persuade voters by pandering to these identities. Through multiple survey experiments, we examine the persuasiveness of group-directed pandering. We ask: Do group members respond more favorably to appeals geared to them, or do they prefer broad-based appeals? Do voters not in a group penalize candidates who appeal to a group? Answers to these questions help us grapple with the evolving relationship between voters and candidates in a rapidly changing information environment. Our results suggest that voters rarely prefer targeted pandering to general messages and that “mistargeted” voters penalize candidates enough to erase the positive returns to targeting. Theoretically, targeting may allow candidates to quietly promise particularistic benefits to narrow audiences, thereby altering the nature of political representation, but voters seem to prefer being solicited based on broad principles and collective benefits.
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