The (minimal) persuasive advantage of political video over text


Concerns about video-based political persuasion are prevalent in both popular and academic circles, predicated on the assumption that video is more compelling than text. To date, however, this assumption remains largely untested in the political domain. Here, we provide such a test. We begin by drawing a theoretical distinction between two dimensions for which video might be more efficacious than text: 1) one’s belief that a depicted event actually occurred and 2) the extent to which one’s attitudes and behavior are changed. We test this model across two high-powered survey experiments varying exposure to politically persuasive messaging (total n = 7,609 Americans; 26,584 observations). Respondents were shown a selection of persuasive messages drawn from a diverse sample of 72 clips. For each message, they were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: a short video, a detailed transcript of the video, or a control condition. Overall, we find that individuals are more likely to believe an event occurred when it is presented in video versus textual form, but the impact on attitudes and behavioral intentions is much smaller. Importantly, for both dimensions, these effects are highly stable across messages and respondent subgroups. Moreover, when it comes to attitudes and engagement, the difference between the video and text conditions is comparable to, if not smaller than, the difference between the text and control conditions. Taken together, these results call into question widely held assumptions about the unique persuasive power of political video over text.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences