Republican consultants don’t have enough eggheads in their ranks to effectively test their persuasion ads, which could mean that the right is running spots that at a minimum aren’t effective or worse, could turn off potential supporters.
“You can’t do an assessment of persuadability on what ads work or what voters are going to move in response to an ad without running a randomized controlled trial [RCT],” said Adam Schaeffer, founder of Evolving Strategies LLC. “On the Democratic side of the aisle, there’s a much larger ecosystem of testing the effectiveness of ads.”
Schaeffer, who holds a doctorate from the University of Virginia, believes the greater number of liberals in academia has given Democrats an advantage by allowing professors to moonlight for firms, or join the campaign industry via the proverbial revolving door.
Democrats have spent “a very long time developing and having the supply of political scientists and social scientists” who work for firms and organizations that provide ad testing and other analytics to campaigns and groups.
Whereas on the right, those services tend to be an add-on provided by pollsters, who offer things like in-person and online focus groups, or traditional dial testing. But those services often fall short, according to Schaeffer.
“You can’t really get any insight on whether a message is good by asking what voters think about it,” said Schaeffer. “There’s still a lot of confusion on the Republican and conservative side of the aisle over that fact.”
Instead, campaigns and groups need to consider randomized control trials, where a control group isn’t exposed to the political message while one is with the outcome measured in both instances.
“I see it needing to change because essentially knowing people’s baselines preferences is not terribly helpful,” he continued. “You can’t do an assessment of persuadability on what ads work or what voters are going to move in response to an ad without running a randomized controlled trial. It’s all based on probabilities and comparing the treatment to the control group outcomes.”
In addition to a dearth of conservative academics in the social sciences, there’s also the issue of time. Testing that includes a RCT component could add an additional week or two to an ad’s deployment — maybe more if the results dictated changes to the creative.
Ultimately, this type of testing is about optimization and “increasing the efficiency of your ad spending,” according to Schaeffer.