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More ads and more negativity: Political advertising trends in 2010

There sure seemed to be a lot of political ads on TV last summer and fall. Based on my unscientific observation as a political news junkie, stark black and white images and ominous voices declared every few minutes that so-and-so was unfit to be a dogcatcher or any other public official. An overview of political advertising in 2010 has confirmed those suspicions.

Screenshot of a 2010 ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee

Screenshot of a 2010 ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee

Travis N. Ridout,an associate professor of political science at Washington State University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, writes in the political science journal The Forum that campaign and political advertising picked up in 2010. Or,  if you consider the increase in negative ads, it sank deeper.

From the paper’s abstract:

Political advertising offers an important window on American campaigns and elections. We analyze a comprehensive database of political ads aired during the 2010 midterms to shed light on campaign strategies in this history-making election. We find that with the increase in competitive races in 2010, the volume of advertising rose too, as did its negativity. Moreover, we track the issues mentioned by each party, finding that while the parties agreed that employment was the top issue, there was also much divergence in issue priorities, with Republicans taking up some unlikely themes such as health care and “change.” The high volume of advertising in 2010 suggests a greater potential for voter learning, but the high levels of ad negativity could have had both positive and negative consequences on the electorate.

Ridout co-authored the paper with Erika Franklin Fowler of Wesleyan University. You can read more about Ridout’s work in “Civility in Politics and Campaigns,” winter 2010 issue of Washington State Magazine.

Links

Advertising Trends in 2010 (The Forum, Vol. 8, Issue 4. Berkeley Electronic Press, 2011. PDF)

The Wesleyan Media Project