This research examines how an attack ad’s sponsorship conditions its effectiveness. We use data from a survey experiment that exposed participants to a fictional campaign ad. Treatments varied the ad’s sponsor (candidate vs. group), the group’s donor base (small donor vs. large donors), and the format of the donor disclosure (news reports vs. disclaimers in the ads). We find that ads sponsored by unknown groups are more effective than candidate-sponsored ads, but disclosure of donors reduces the influence of group advertising, leveling the playing field such that candidate- and group-sponsored attacks become equally effective. Increased disclosure does not, however, advantage small-donor groups over large-donor groups.
Ridout, Travis N.; Franz, Michael M.; and Fowler, Erika Franklin, "Sponsorship, Disclosure, and Donors: Limiting the Impact of Outside Group Ads" (2015). Government Faculty Publications. 8.