One of the researchers at Angus Reid has helpfully sent along his presentation on these findings.
What they essentially did was compare reactions to two Conservative ads: the succinctly entitled Gamble 3 and Family is Everything.
Not surprisingly, the attack ad was better, at least in the abstract, at moving votes. Among declared Liberals, seven percent said they were less likely to vote Liberal after seeing the negative ad, 10 percent said they were more likely to vote Conservative. Family is Everything was about half as effective with Liberal voters (three percent less likely to vote Liberal, six percent more likely to vote Conservative).
The more general question to the surveyed audience was this: Based solely on what you saw in the ad, are you more or less likely to vote in this election? The responses were tabulated as follows.
Family is Everything
More likely: 28%
No impact: 69%
Less likely: 3%
More likely: 25%
No impact: 64%
Less likely: 11%
So if you were looking for a positive spin it’s that the attack ad made maybe 25% of the population even more eager to vote. But—with all the usual caveats about polling and self-reporting and drawing big conclusions from a single study—that 11% figure is probably important, especially if you extrapolate outwards to imagine the effect of other aspects of modern politics (flyers, discourse, rhetoric, media coverage, etc). Somehow, of course, these things can’t be taken seriously until there’s a number attached.
If nothing else it is at least cause to ask each of the federal parties the following: How do you reconcile the fact that your practices are actively discouraging citizens from participating in the political process? Do you feel you have a responsibility to encourage public engagement with democracy? And, given these findings, would you commit to changing your practices in the future?