Small study suggests McCain ads lampooning Obama could hurt

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 1, 2008 

John McCain struck again on Friday, releasing a Web video suggesting that his Democatic rival, Barack Obama is "The One," a semi-religious figure sent to save the world. The spot includes footage of Charlton Heston as Moses, parting the Red Sea.

The ad was the second released this week by McCain intended to make fun of Obama. Earlier, the campaign issued an ad that likened Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in an effort to take the shine off the huge crowds Obama drew in Berlin during his European tour.

Friday's ad takes that theme one step further, lampooning Obama's soaring rhetoric and suggesting that the Illinois senator suffers from a Messianic complex. As the ad comes to a close, it shows Heston in his iconic role as Moses parting the Red Sea, then asks the question "Obama may be The One. But is he ready to lead?"

How successful the ads will be at turning what are widely perceived as Obama's strengths into weaknesses won't be known for some time. Experts have warned they could backfire on McCain, making him seem bitter and petty and emphasizing differences between him and Obama.

A small study of people's reactions to the Britney-Paris ad suggested, however, that while people don't like the ad, it caused them to doubt Obama, and small percentages who'd said before viewing the ad that they'd vote for him said afterword that they wouldn't.

Those declines didn't result in more support for McCain; doubting Democrats and Republicans instead moved into the undecided column. Independents who moved away from Obama did say they'd vote for McCain.

The study was conducted among self-reported Democrats, Republicans and independents by HCD Research and the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

The study, of 320 Americans, found that a majority of Republicans were "disturbed, skeptical" and "saddened" after viewing the ad and that 61 percent of Republicans had a negative view of the ad.

While viewing the ad, participants indicated their levels of agreement by moving their computer mouse from left on a continuum. The responses were recorded in quarter-second intervals and reported in the form of curves. Participants were also asked pre- and post-viewing questions.

"We are not sure whether the negative emotions expressed by viewers were related to their feelings about either candidate or about the way in which the message was delivered," said Glenn Kessler, president and CEO of HCD Research. "However, we do know that the ad did not move voters and they expressed negative emotions after viewing the ad."

The emotions most felt by Republicans while watching the ad were "disturbing" (35 percent), "skepticism" (16 percent) and "sadness" (10 percent); Democrats reported "skepticism" (44 percent), "anger" (24 percent) and "disturbing" (14 percent); Independents reported "skepticism" (41 percent), "disturbing" (18 percent) and "anger" (18 percent).

But the results that may have been most telling were the changes in whom the participants would vote for and suggested that such advertising could have an impact, especially among independents.

Before viewing the ad, 75 percent of the Democrats said they would vote for Obama. After viewing the ad, that percentage was 72, while undecideds rose from 13 to 15 percent and those favoring other candidates rose from 3 to 4 percent.

The number who said they would vote for McCain, however, remained unchanged at 9 percent.

Similar results were recorded for Republicans and Independents. Republican support for Obama dropped from 8 to 6 percent, while McCain's percentage remained unchanged at 74 percent. Undecideds rose from 16 to 18 percent, however.

Only among independents did the drop in Obama's percentage, from 44 to 43 percent, accrue to McCain, whose support went from 33 to 34 percent.

Read the study

McCain's "The One'' ad

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