What Americans thought of campaign ads in the Georgia Senate runoff

Linley SandersData Journalist
December 07, 2022, 8:17 PM GMT+0

On Tuesday, Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock beat Republican Herschel Walker in a runoff election for one of Georgia's two U.S. Senate seats. Though the election came down to Georgian voters, many people in the rest of the country monitored the final race of the 2022 congressional elections to see whether Democrats would expand their control of the Senate or continue to need Vice President Kamala Harris's vote to break ties with 50-50 control.

The Senate contest drew $79 million in television advertisements for its runoff alone, with positive and negative videos playing for local viewers. To understand how Americans nationwide perceived recent advertisements out of Georgia, YouGov in two separate polls each run in the week before the runoff showed video of each of four recent advertisements — two for Warnock and two for Walker — to 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. YouGov asked them to share their perception of its tone, its honesty, whether it inspired them, and what stood out in each video.

Warnock Ad: 'Still Walking'

In a 30-second video showing Warnock walking his dog around a neighborhood, he accused Walker of repeating "the same lies" rather than "explaining what he'd do in the Senate." In one moment that stood out to many viewers, Warnock said, "Georgians will see [Walker's] ads for what they are" before dropping in the trash a bag of what is implied to be dog poop. The inclusion of the dog was mentioned as a part of the ad that stood out by many respondents to an open-ended question that asked what they remembered about the video. A Georgia Independent wrote, "It presented a negative message in a positive way, including the cute dog and upbeat tone."

Americans who watched the video were split on whether Warnock's ad was positive (47%) or negative (44%), with big differences by political party affiliation. About two-thirds of Democrats (68%) but just 30% of Republicans saw the video as positive.

Walker Ad: 'Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate'

A 30-second advertisement that highlighted Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's endorsement of Walker was viewed favorably by most Republicans. In the video, Kemp said, "I've never been more optimistic about the future of our state. But look, we cannot rest on our laurels, everyone. You're going to decide who our Senator is."

More Republicans (81% to 13%), Independents (63% to 21%), and Democrats (52% to 32%) saw the advertisement as positive than saw it as negative. Republicans were especially likely to describe the clip as more honest than dishonest (58%), and two-thirds (65%) said it was more inspiring than uninspiring. Many people took note of Kemp's endorsement, with an Independent who lives in Georgia saying, "Brian Kemp giving support means a lot! I trust our Governor."

Warnock Ad: 'Embarrassing'

During the campaign, Warnock released a 60-second advertisement that showed Georgians who were recruited by the Warnock campaign reacting to video clips of Walker telling stories on the campaign trail. The clips showed Walker making comments about a vampire movie, sharing a metaphor about bulls, and making remarks about bad air coming to the U.S. from China. One person reacting within the campaign video said to the camera: "No one's watching this and being like, 'Oh man, that guy's got it together.' It is embarrassing."

Majorities of Republicans (69%), Independents (60%), and Democrats (59%) described the advertisement as very or somewhat negative. About half of Americans (50%) called it more uninspiring than inspiring — a perspective that Democrats agree with by 48% to 22%. A Republican respondent who lives in Georgia reacted to the video by saying, "It's just another political ad without context to try to make the opponent look bad. It doesn't sway me one way or the other. It's just boring."

Walker Ad: 'Character'

Last week, Walker released a 30-second advertisement that opens with Warnock saying that "character is what you do when no one is watching." It then showcases accusations of Warnock being abusive to his ex-wife (Warnock has denied the claims) and of evicting low-income people from an apartment complex that is owned by the church where Warnock is a pastor (he has also denied those claims). The advertisement closes with a narrator saying, "When nobody is watching, you find out who Warnock really is."

Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) described the video's tone as negative, with majorities of Democrats (74%), Independents (68%), and Republicans (65%) in agreement. That is where the consensus ends, however: More Democrats view the video as more dishonest than honest than the other way around (43% to 19%), while Republicans are more likely to believe the opposite (13% to 48%). A Democratic Georgian who watched the advertisement said in an open-ended response, "The video is a lie... Raphael Warnock is a person of high integrity. He is for the people. He is respected by people all over the world."

— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from the November 29 - December 5, 2022 and November 30 - December 4, 2022 polls from YouGov

Methodology: These polls were conducted on November 29 - December 5, 2022 and November 30 - December 4, each among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Getty Images (Win McNamee)