HomeLearning CenterUtah opponents made a campaign ad together. Here’s what it achieved

Utah opponents made a campaign ad together. Here’s what it achieved

During the 2020 campaign season, Utah’s Democratic and Republican candidates for governor took the unusual step of recording an ad together. Two years later, researchers found it had an effect on those who saw it.

The ad featured Democrat Chris Peterson and Republican Spencer Cox praising the value of mutual respect in the political process.

“We are currently in the final days of campaigning against each other to be your next governor,” Peterson said in the ad, before the two concede that they both want the viewer’s vote.

But they followed that with comments encouraging political sportsmanship.

“We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson said.

“We can disagree without hating each other,” Cox said.

The candidates also both pledged to support the results of the election.

The ad served as an example of Utah’s characteristically civil political climate. The state’s politicians on both sides frequently lament the sharp and bitter tone of national political debates.

But a new study suggests that the ad’s approach could be effective in reducing polarization nationwide.

That study was the product of the Strengthening Democracy Challenge, a competition that was sponsored by a group of academics looking to find short online interventions that can improve democracy by decreasing polarization.

Hundreds of participants submitted proposals; 25 interventions were tested. The Utah video, proposed by University of Utah communications professor Ben Lyons, was one of the most effective interventions.

Participants in the study, who were drawn from a national sample, had their attitudes tested after watching a one-minute version of the ad; the ad was found to reduce both support for undemocratic practices (such as refusing to accept the results of an election if your side loses) and for partisan violence (violence in support for a political cause).


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