Issue Ads and the Health Reform Debate

The results of an online experiment where subjects viewed a health care-related issue ad are presented here. The authors discuss how an issue ad may increase the topic’s importance and influence perception among its viewers.

Knowledge Networks, on online survey firm administered the survey to 1,156 adults in late September 2009. A short news clip ending with commercials was presented followed by a questionnaire. Questions included recall on the ad they viewed, their support of health reform, and their background. Each subject viewed one of five real issue ads regarding: health reform (either pro or con), worker’s rights, or a control ad. The results from the online survey helped determine whether issue ads have the ability to increase the salience of topics featured in the ad and whether attitudes shift toward the position favored by the ads’ sponsor. Here they specifically measured approval of President Obama, overall and on health reform.


Key Findings:

  • Issue advertising may influence the perceived importance of health reform.
  • Subjects with low levels of political awareness are more likely to be influenced by issue ads.

While this study did show that issue ads do increase the salience of health care policy, further studies are needed to determine how long the influence lasts. The effects of issue advertisements warrant further study to understand and predict how they influence their audience.