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

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The U.S. Capitol dome against the Washington skyline.

(NewsNation) — 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).

Lyons noted in an interview that after watching the ad, respondents reported an 8 percent decline in support for undemocratic practices and an 18 percent drop in support for partisan violence. He added the effectiveness of the ad appears to be bipartisan.

“This is more or less effective among Republicans and Democrats,” he said.

He did note, however, that the effects of the video did fade over time.

“A couple weeks later we find that those who had seen the video were no more or less likely to exhibit anti-democratic attitudes. So it’s not a cure-all,” he said.

Another challenge in replicating this strategy might just be convincing politicians to make an ad similar to the one Peterson and Cox filmed.

“It does need to be candidate-driven. … The electorate responds to this sort of thing so long as the elites are willing to get on board, I think,” Lyons said.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Chris Peterson NewsNation Spencer Cox Spencer Cox University of Utah Utah

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