Research News

Democrats dig Big Bird; Republicans not so much

The polarization of America has reached such an epic point as the presidential election approaches that Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the appeal of a giant yellow Muppet.

In the aftermath of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledging to cancel funding for PBS during the first presidential debate Oct. 3, President Obama’s campaign released a tongue-in-cheek ad that poked fun at Romney for targeting Big Bird, one of the stars of the popular PBS children’s show Sesame Street. The ad facetiously lists Big Bird with criminals of the financial meltdown such as Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay – supposedly in the minds of Republicans.

During the debate, Romney actually expressed fondness for the more than 8-foot-tall Big Bird.

“I like PBS,” Romney said. “I love Big Bird. … But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”

John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt and the leader of the Vanderbilt/YouGov Ad Rating Project, said the Big Bird ad had a limited ad buy and was intended more to get press attention than influence voters.

As expected, it didn’t affect the public very much.

“They scored it a little less believable than past attack ads and seemed less bothered by the attacking part of it, knowing that there was a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it,” Geer said. “But there was one intriguing effect, and it was on perceptions of Big Bird himself.”

Democrats gave Big Bird a favorable rating by an 85 percent margin. Only 55 percent of Republicans held that view.

“If we just look at Romney and Obama voters, the story is much the same,” Geer said. “Of Obama voters, 88 percent liked Big Bird. Among Romney supporters, 56 percent indicated favorable ratings of Big Bird.

“[rquote]Yellow may be the new blue,” Geer said.[/rquote]

YouGov uses a representative sample of 600 Americans, with an over-sample of 200 independent voters, to rate political ads. Results and a link to the “Big Bird” ad will be posted on a website for The Vanderbilt University/YouGov Ad Rating Project.