In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Archives and Data Sources
  • Classic Monographs
  • Resource Allocation
  • Attack
  • Dynamics
  • Campaign News Coverage
  • Campaign Effects
  • Histories of Political Advertising
  • Issue Advertising
  • Interaction between Advertising and News
  • Racial and Ethnic Differences

Political Science Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
Michael Hagen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0001


Americans invest a great deal in choosing political leaders. In each election cycle, campaigns for elective office in the United States combine to raise and spend billions of dollars, and candidates and volunteers devote untold unpaid hours to promote their causes. The campaigns with sufficiently large bank balances use most of their money for airtime on television, most purchased in thirty-second portions, during which candidates communicate their case to potential supporters. Legions of journalists and commentators follow the tactical twists and turns, handicapping the races. The scholarship on American campaigns addresses two fundamental questions: Why do campaigns do what they do, and what difference do they make? For many years, the scholarly view of the impact of campaigns was diametrically different from the views of the people who mount or report on them. The conventional wisdom that emerged among academics—especially political scientists—in the wake of survey-based election studies in the 1940s and 1950s held that voters make their choices principally on the basis of longstanding attachments to the political parties and other groups, and these attachments shift little from election to election, let alone from the start of a campaign to Election Day. Since the early 1990s, however, scholars have reopened the question of campaign influence—in part because they have brought new tools to bear on the study of elections, in part because the electorate seems in some respects to have become more volatile, and in part because the magnitude of both the investment and the stakes makes a thorough understanding of campaigns vital. Election campaigns vary enormously, of course, in the time, effort, and money they entail: a presidential campaign can employ hundreds of people and spend hundreds of millions of dollars, whereas a campaign for a local office may depend for its resources solely on the energy and credit card of the candidate. The emphasis of the scholarship reflects campaign expenditures; as will be clear below, scholars have focused mainly on high-profile campaigns, presidential campaigns in particular, and on television advertising rather than radio or print. Finally, although this bibliography focuses rather ruthlessly on the American case alone, the literature on advertising and campaigns in the rest of the world is growing in quantity and quality as well.


Political scientists, communications scholars, journalists, and educators all offer textbook treatments of political campaigning and advertising, each from a somewhat different perspective. Many textbooks are updated regularly, both because each new election brings new ads to consider and because the tactics and technologies of campaigning are evolving rapidly. Most textbooks about elections, of course, include brief, general discussions of campaigns. Good textbooks about the nuts and bolts of running a campaign are also available. Those listed here run the gamut. Jamieson and Campbell 2006 and Trent and Friedenberg 2008 cover political communication comprehensively. Herrnson 2005 covers a wide range of campaign topics, from the laws regulating who can run and who can vote to the history of presidential debates and news coverage on election night. West 2009 and Kaid and Johnston 2001 are very useful introductions to campaign advertising in particular. Medvic 2008 concentrates on the choices campaigners must make and the conditions under which they must make them, and Johnson 2010 focuses specifically on the ways in which campaign tactics have and have not changed as the technology and information available to campaigns have increased in sophistication. Baker 2009 aims to help make students and other citizens more sophisticated observers of political campaigns.

  • Baker, Frank W. Political Campaigns and Political Advertising: A Media Literacy Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2009.

    An introduction to some of the fundamentals of campaign advertising, written by an educator with expertise in media literacy.

  • Herrnson, Paul, ed. Guide to Political Campaigns in America. Washington, DC: CQ, 2005.

    A remarkably thorough collection of essays about all facets of the electoral process. An extremely useful reference work for scholars.

  • Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell. The Interplay of Influence: News, Advertising, Politics, and the Internet. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2006.

    Thorough and well-organized introduction to political advertising placed in the context of the American mass media system.

  • Johnson, Dennis W. Campaigning in the Twenty-First Century: A Whole New Ballgame? New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Entertaining and informative introduction to the techniques of modern campaigning, with special emphasis on emerging technologies.

  • Kaid, Lynda Lee, and Anne Johnston. Videostyle in Presidential Campaigns: Style and Content of Televised Political Advertising. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.

    Detailed introduction to campaign advertising strategy and tactics, focusing on the styles campaigns adopt to communicate their messages. Identifies patterns in the elements and tactics employed by types of candidates.

  • Medvic, Stephen K. Campaigns and Elections: Players and Processes. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage, 2008.

    Introduction to the major actors in political campaigns, the decisions they face, and the institutions and constraints that guide their behavior.

  • Trent, Judith S., and Robert V. Friedenberg. Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices. 6th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

    Comprehensive introduction to campaign communication in all its forms, written by communications scholars.

  • West, Darrell M. Air Wars: Television Advertising in Election Campaigns, 1952–2008. 5th ed. Washington, DC: CQ, 2009.

    The textbook treatment of how advertising is used in American elections. Wide-ranging and accessible. First published in 1993.

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