My excellent colleague, Dona-Gene Mitchell, recently published her latest research on how information in a political campaign sticks around in voters’ minds … and that, mostly, it doesn’t:
Mitchell researches the effects of time on the political process – and specifically, how long information endures or how fast it fades from people’s minds during multi-week campaigns. Her most recent findings, published in the American Journal of Political Science, suggest that in a tightly controlled information environment, issue-related information about a candidate was supplanted quickly from voters’ minds by new data.
Character and personal facts about a candidate, meanwhile, were found to stick in people’s memories a little longer – but not by much.
“I find a remarkably limited role for enduring information effects,” Mitchell said. “In other words, during campaigns, citizens appear to operate as if they have short-term memory loss where information this week mattered but the effects quickly faded a week later.”
Mitchell’s work employs a unique approach into the study of how different kinds of candidate information is processed. Unlike previous experimental studies, which had been done in a single sitting, the method releases different types of information about a candidate to study participants over 12 weeks. This approach, Mitchell said, brings new insights into the lifespan of campaign information – and just how much of it helps voters to modify their judgments about a candidate.
So, if your candidate doesn’t seem to be doing all that well getting his message out to voters this week, don’t worry: Voters won’t remember much of what’s been said on Tuesday by the time it gets to Thursday.