America Reacts: Obama Still Wins vs. Clinton (Bill); O’Donnell Scores by Not Being a Witch

Part III of the series “America Reacts”. Michael Maslansky examines viewer’s reactions to political ads by Bobby Bright, Jim Marshall, Cedric Richmond, Christine O’Donnell, Bill Owens, Chet Edwards and Blache Lincoln.

Part Three of a series, read Part One or Part Two.


While several Democratic candidates are working to distance
themselves from an increasingly unpopular administration, Democratic
voters nationwide still respond better to an endorsement from President
Obama than one from former President Bill Clinton, according to
just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research

Additionally, Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine
O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” ad scores well not only with Republicans
but with independents and even some Democrats. And the strongest line
of the week comes from Democratic Congressional candidate Bobby Bright
of Kentucky whose claim of being “the most independent member of
congress” resonated with voters from all parties nationwide.

We tested eight political TV ads using The Reactor, a technology that
taps into voters’ emotional responses to understand exactly how voters
feel when they view ads and hear political messages. This week’s test
was conducted with 532 Democrats, Independents and Republicans from
around the country to gauge voters’ second-to-second, gut reactions.


Note: while the ads tested were for local Congressional and Senate
races, they were tested with voters across the country and thus reflect
national political sentiment.

Ads, along with second-by-second voter responses displayed graphically, can be viewed at:


Obama vs. (Bill) Clinton – (Obama still wins).
Though there are plenty of people who would probably love to see this
electoral match-up so we chose to compare the impact of their
endorsements on voter attitudes.

  • We found that Bill Clinton was not as
    polarizing as he once was, but his endorsement of Democrat Arkansas
    Senate candidate Blanche Lincoln wasn’t all that effective either.
  • On the other hand, reactions to Obama’s
    endorsement of Democrat Louisiana House candidate Cedric Richmond were
    slightly more negative than to Clinton from Republicans, but were much
    more positive from Democrats.

“I didn’t go to Yale.” Neither did you, according to
Republican Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. In her
second ad speaking into camera, O’Donnell positions herself against her
Yale educated, wealthy opponent and succeeds with voters across the
political spectrum.

  • Though she isn’t likely to win this race,
    history is likely to look positively on her two backlit campaign ads.
    Aside from her opening line in the first ad, disclaiming her connections
    to the dark arts, both ads tested strongly with conservatives and
    independents, and even broke into positive territory with Dems.
  • “I know how to make and keep a dollar.”
    Consistent with reactions to other ads we have tested, references to
    real-world business experience, like this one from O’Donnell test well
    across party lines.

Dems overshoot the mark in attacking their own party.
We tested four ads from Democratic candidates trying to distance
themselves from their own party. Though each was effective in driving
positive reactions from Conservatives, these ads did nothing to move the
middle. Here’s what worked and what didn’t.

  • Anti-Pelosi is better than Pro-Boehner.
    Georgia house candidate Jim Marshall mentioned Nancy Pelosi or San
    Francisco 5 times in 30 seconds. Only one of the ads failed to include
    her by name. At the same time three of the ads mentioned Republican
    leaders or conservative voting records. Overall, references to Pelosi
    were much more effective in driving up Republican responses than
    references to Republican leadership. (these mentions were also
    extremely polarizing for Dems).
  • Guns and Money. References to the NRA had
    limited incremental impact with any party in either of the two ads that
    mentioned them. Support or agreement with Chambers of Commerce also did
    little to move the needles, even with Independents.
  • Few care about health care. Perhaps it is
    because people still don’t understand the health care bill. Or because
    these candidates weren’t spending enough time to explain their position.
    What is clear, however, is that messages about voting against or
    repealing the health care bill had little impact on reactions from

“Independent” is in. The single most effective line
in the anti-dem ads from Democrats was from Bobby Bright of Kentucky.
Though it is no surprise that saying “I am the most independent member
of Congress” would work with Independents, this line also got positive
marks from Democrats and Republicans – virtually the only one in the ads
we tested.



This research is part of an ongoing collaboration between maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research to monitor Americans’ reactions to a range of political ads during the run-up to the Mid Term Elections. The Reactor is Roy Morgan Research’s proprietary online research tool designed to continuously measure respondents’ reactions to these ads.

More to come…We expect the next update to be out next week. If you would like to see the results of these and similar research studies, just sign up on our site.

Michael Maslansky (@m_mas) is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy and research firm, and author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.


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