When it came time to create different messaging materials, we relied on political scientist Ted Brader’s article “Striking a Responsive Chord: How Political Ads Motivate and Persuade Voters by Appealing to Emotions.” This article’s main point was that negatively framed ads are more likely to get people to change their mind about a topic, whereas positively framed ads are more likely to get people to act on a topic they already support.
Based on our focus group and interview responses, we knew that people didn’t know a lot about PILOT, but were initially skeptical. However, there were also a significant number of responses that showed a desire for Hartford to succeed. With that in mind, we created a negatively framed message to appeal to those who were skeptical of the program in order to change their minds. We also created a positive message to appeal to those who want Hartford to succeed.
Influence of the message on support for PILOT
The dependent variable measuring support for fully funding PILOT was measured on a five-point scale from “very likely” to “very unlikely” to support funding. Overall, 76% of people were at least somewhat likely to support fully funding PILOT. Holding constant respondents’ familiarity with PILOT, the frequency with which they visit Hartford, their political ideology, and other demographic characteristics, people who viewed the negative image were .21 points more likely to support PILOT (p = .07).
Positive image led to more petition signatures
We designed our survey to not only test changes in opinion, but also see who was moved to action. To measure the number of participants moved to action, we gave respondents the option to sign an online petition demonstrating their support for fully funding PILOT. Our hypothesis about positive messaging was at least partially confirmed by the finding that people who saw the positive message were slightly more likely to sign the petition at the end of the survey than those who saw the negative message.
The positive image led to 19 signatures on the petition, whereas the negative image led to 14 signatures. These 33 signatures represent a small portion of total survey participants, so this difference demonstrates that the relationship is directional but not statistically significant.