Political Science Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
by
Michael Hagen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0001

Introduction

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.

Textbooks

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.

Journals

Scholarship on American campaigns and advertising appears in journals in several fields, especially advertising, communications, political science, and psychology. No academic journals seem to be devoted exclusively to research in this specific area, but several aim to straddle the divides that separate disciplines. These include the International Journal of Press/Politics, the Journal of Political Marketing, Political Communication, and Political Psychology. Campaigns & Elections is a trade magazine of interest to any observer who wants to know the latest news in the campaigning industry.

Archives and Data Sources

The largest collection of campaign ads is the Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive at the University of Oklahoma, though its materials are not available online. The websites of many news organizations offer online access to collections of selected campaign ads, some of them updated frequently during election years. Other organizations maintain more comprehensive though less current collections. The EASE History collection is notable for having classified ads on a variety of dimensions and offering access through a searchable index. Both EASE History and Living Room Candidate, maintained by the Museum of the Moving Image, supplement their ads with lesson plans, activities, and other materials useful to teachers. The Wisconsin Advertising Project makes available on compact disk detailed data about the content and schedule of ads aired in congressional and presidential races between 1996 and 2008. The Wesleyan Media Project publishes analyses of campaign advertising and in the future will make available data similar to those now available from the Wisconsin Project. Campaign news coverage aired on local television stations since 1998 is available from the Lear Center Local News Archive. For a first-rate list of additional resources and readings, see the Political Spot Advertising web page created and maintained by Professor Allan Louden at Wake Forest University.

Classic Monographs

Each of these books, though written more than forty years ago, remains influential today, because it altered the way scholars and other observers thought about election campaigns. Written by journalists, Crouse 1973, McGinniss 1969, and White 1961 bring us into the buses, studios, and hotel rooms where strategic decisions were made. Schwartz 1973 shares the wisdom and experience of an ad man who came to politics and created Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad, among many others. Berelson, et al. 1954, Downs 1957, Kelley 1960, and Nimmo 1970 all represent important steps in the scholarship about campaigns.

Issues in Campaigns

Do the candidates from opposing parties use their campaigns to stake out clear, and clearly different, positions on the issues of the day? Do they compete fiercely for the same position, or do they take no position at all? How do they choose which issues to highlight? Do opposing campaigns usually choose to highlight the same issues or different ones? The work on these questions is rich, varied, and growing. Much of the work is informed by spatial models of voting, with their roots in Downs 1957, cited under Classic Monographs.

Emphasis

Candidates and campaigns obviously do not give all political issues equal attention; they make choices about which issues to emphasize. Competing campaigns’ choices may be interdependent and dynamic, even when the objective is the ratification of the US Constitution (Riker 1996). Although presidential candidates in general rarely emphasize policy differences between themselves and their opponents (Page 1978), new methods of identifying and addressing voters with particular profiles may have increased the incidence and effectiveness of emphasizing differences (Hillygus and Shields 2008). The influence even of national economic conditions, once thought to be ubiquitous in presidential elections, depends in part on the decisions candidates make about what to give prominence in their campaigns (Vavreck 2009).

  • Hillygus, D. Sunshine, and Todd G. Shields. The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

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    Uses innovative panel survey data to investigate the use of issues by presidential campaigns to attract support from voters who identify with the opposing party. Argues that such strategies are facilitated by new technologies and techniques that allow candidates to target messages to narrower groups of voters.

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  • Page, Benjamin I. Choices and Echoes in Presidential Elections. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

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    Rich and thoughtful study of the policy positions represented by presidential candidates. Finds differences between Republican and Democratic candidates that persist from election to election and little tendency for candidates to moderate their positions during the campaign. But differences are rarely emphasized by the candidates, and they are sometimes hidden from view.

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  • Riker, William H. The Strategy of Rhetoric: Campaigning for the American Constitution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    Study of campaigns conducted by the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in 1787–1788, with great contemporary relevance. Distinguishes choice of issues from choice of how to frame issues to best effect.

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  • Vavreck, Lynn. The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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    Persuasive demonstration that the impact of economic conditions on presidential election outcomes depends on the extent to which the campaign that stands to benefit from economic considerations emphasizes those considerations.

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Convergence

Do opposing candidates typically engage in a dialogue about government policy, or do they more often talk past one another, each highlighting different issues? There is not complete agreement among political scientists about the answer. Sigelman and Buell 2004 finds that the campaigns of opposing presidential candidates often do converge. Simon 2002 argues, in contrast, that opposing candidates rarely converge on the same issues, with real consequences. The differences between candidates appear to be a function chiefly of partisanship, as candidates of the same party running for different offices tend to highlight the same issues (Spiliotes and Vavreck 2002). Opposing candidates are more likely to converge on issues that are particularly important to the public (Damore 2005), especially in more competitive races (Kaplan, et al. 2006).

Ambiguity

It’s no secret that candidates sometimes avoid taking clear positions on issues. Political scientists have frequently addressed the reasons for this, making use of formal models as well as empirical research. The likelihood that candidates will opt for ambiguity may depend on the willingness of voters to accept uncertainty about where a candidate stands (Shepsle 1972), the costs and electoral benefits to candidates of staking out clear positions (Page 1976), the confidence with which candidates can assess the positions of constituents on issues (Glazer 1990), the extent to which voters are suspicious of candidates whose issue positions are ambiguous (Chappell 1994), and the tendency for voters to project their own issue preferences onto candidates they like (Jensen 2009). The emphasis candidates place on issues does influence voters’ uncertainty about where candidates stand (Franklin 1991), and voters’ uncertainty does affect the extent to which voters take issues into account when choosing between candidates (Alvarez 1997).

Ownership

Petrocik 1996 suggests that parties develop reputations for handling particular issues better than their opponents, reputations that in turn offer a party’s candidates advantages when particular issues weigh heavily in the minds of voters. This notion of “issue ownership” helps to explain which issues a campaign chooses to emphasize—in House elections (Sides 2006), in Senate elections (Sellers 1998), and in presidential campaigns (Benoit 2007)—though it is also possible to identify circumstances under which issue ownership is less important, as Damore 2004 and Dulio and Trumbore 2009 do. And issue ownership matters, perhaps because it helps determine which issues voters regard as important or pertinent (Petrocik, et al. 2003), perhaps because campaign advertising that emphasizes the issues associated with his or her party benefits a candidate more than ads that emphasize other issues (Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1994).

Resource Allocation

Though presidential campaigns now spend hundreds of millions of dollars, campaigners still must make strategic decisions about how and where to spend their resources. Most of the money a presidential campaign spends is on airtime for television advertising, and that remains true despite recent changes in the technology and tactics of campaigning (Ridout 2009). A campaign’s most valuable resource—the candidate’s time—is even scarcer than money, however, and its expenditure is therefore even more carefully planned (West 1983). Distinctions among types of resources are important, because different types of resources are allocated according to different rules, depending on their purpose (Bartels 1985). Formal models ground candidates’ decisions about how to allocate resources across states in electoral votes (Brams and Davis 1974) and competitiveness (Colantoni, et al. 1975), considerations that Shaw 2006 confirms empirically to be influential. Campaigns make decisions about the distribution of resources over time as well as over space (Goldstein and Freedman 2002), especially during the sequential series of primaries and caucuses that nominate presidential candidates (Ridout, et al. 2009).

Attack

Two entertaining and informative descriptions of negative campaigns are Swint 2005 and Mark 2009. Kaid and Johnston 1991 focuses on television advertising in presidential campaigns. Scholars have not been content simply to document and express distaste for nastiness in campaigns, but have developed and applied real standards for classifying attacks, explaining their emergence, and detecting their effects. Jamieson 1992, for example, is an important critique of the campaign tactics—especially attacks via advertising—that have come to dominate modern campaigns. Geer 2006 is an important counter, arguing that some of the things election campaigns ought to do for voters are done in attack ads. Damore 2002 identifies factors that influence the decisions of presidential candidates about whether and when to go on the attack. Attacks are not confined to presidential campaigns, of course, and thoroughgoing research on their role in Senate campaigns is reported in Kahn and Kenney 2004.

Dynamics

The study of campaigns has increasingly focused on changes over the course of a campaign in the public’s evaluations of candidates. The initial impetus for this line of research came from recognition of the importance of the sequence in which presidential candidates compete in primaries and caucuses. Aldrich 1980 and Bartels 1988 still represent the best of the work done on the presidential nominating process. Later work has been greatly facilitated by the availability of new sources of data collected over time. Wlezien and Erikson 2002 arrives at important generalizations based on the authors’ remarkable collection of polls conducted during presidential campaigns. Johnston, et al. 2004 and Hagen and Johnston 2007 employ national rolling cross-sections to detail campaign dynamics in 2000, and Kenski, et al. 2010 supplements such quantitative data with qualitative information about the 2008 campaign. Carsey 2004 illustrates the great virtues of looking below the presidential level.

  • Aldrich, John H. Before the Convention: Strategies and Choices in Presidential Nomination Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    Theoretical and empirical analysis of the strategic issues facing candidates for running in presidential primaries and caucuses, focusing on the 1976 campaigns.

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  • Bartels, Larry M. Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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    Analysis of the dynamics of public opinion throughout the sequential process of nominating presidential candidates, based on survey data collected during the 1984 Democratic campaign.

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  • Carsey, Thomas M. Campaign Dynamics: The Race for Governor. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

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    Effectively blends qualitative and quantitative analysis to show how campaigns devise strategy and how the choice of strategy matters.

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  • Hagen, Michael, and Richard Johnston. “Conventions and Campaign Dynamics.” In Rewiring Politics: Presidential Nominating Conventions in the Media Age. Edited by Costas Panagopoulos, 29–52. Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 2007.

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    Detailed analysis of the “bump” in the polls presidential candidates receive from their nominating conventions, and the sources of the bump.

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  • Johnston, Richard, Michael G. Hagen, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. The 2000 Presidential Election and the Foundations of Party Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511756207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Combines extensive data on advertising, news, and public opinion, based on the first National Annenberg Election Study, to investigate the dynamics of campaigning and the impact of news and advertising at the individual level and in the aggregate.

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  • Kenski, Kate, Bruce W. Hardy, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Rich and detailed analysis of the impact of the campaigns on the outcome of the presidential election, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative sources of data.

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  • Wlezien, Christopher, and Robert S. Erikson. “The Timeline of Presidential Election Campaigns.” Journal of Politics 64 (2002): 969–993.

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    Sophisticated analysis distinguishing real change from error in the time path of poll results during presidential campaigns. Identifies campaign effects that persist long enough to affect election outcomes.

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Campaign News Coverage

Patterson and McClure 1976 is an important early attempt to document campaign news coverage and assess its effects. Robinson and Sheehan 1983 makes valuable comparisons between print and television news. More recent critiques of the way the news media approach political campaigns are Patterson 1993 and Farnsworth and Lichter 2011. Flowers, et al. 2003 represents an important attempt to account for news coverage by considering how campaigns approach the news media. The consequences of news coverage are famously discussed in McCombs and Shaw 1972 and Iyengar and Kinder 1987. Hetherington 1996 is a particularly focused study of news impact in a specific case.

Campaign Effects

The literature investigating the impact of campaigns is voluminous, and growing at a prodigious rate. These selections represent a few of the most important moments in the development of the field. For thirty years, the accepted view among those studying mass media in general and campaigns in particular was that their effect was minimal. That view has been called into question since the early 1990s. Popkin 1991 and Lodge, et al. 1995 were among the first works to suggest that voters with little information about politics might nonetheless acquire new and valuable information from a campaign. Just, et al. 1996 offers a thorough account of the information that campaigns make available, and Lau and Redlawsk 2006 traces the acquisition of information at the individual level. Finkel 1993 and Gelman and King 1993 argue that, regardless of whether voters acquire and use new information, campaigns encourage and enable voters to bring their predispositions to bear on the choice between candidates. Holbrook 1996 and Campbell 2008 point to types of effects that recur across presidential campaigns, not just effects attributable to individual campaigns.

  • Campbell, James E. The American Campaign. 2d ed. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

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    Analysis of the fundamental factors that influence the outcomes of presidential elections. Argues that campaigns are influential, but in ways that are predictable.

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  • Finkel, Steven E. “Reexamining the ‘Minimal Effects’ Model in Recent Presidential Campaigns.” Journal of Politics 55 (1993): 1–21.

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    Shows that voting in presidential elections is influenced much more by long-term forces such as party identification and by the circumstances of the election than by what transpires during the campaign. Argues that campaigns primarily activate preexisting political predispositions.

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  • Gelman, Andrew, and Gary King. “Why Are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?” British Journal of Political Science 23 (1993): 409–451.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0007123400006682Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provocatively contrasts the accuracy of models forecasting election outcomes months in advance with fluctuations in the vote intentions of the electorate over the ensuing months. Argues that campaigns enlighten the preferences of voters, leading them to the decisions forecast by the models.

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  • Holbrook, Thomas M. Do Campaigns Matter? Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1996.

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    Attributes substantial effects to campaigns in presidential elections by identifying an equilibrium level of support for a candidate and observing deviations from that level over the campaign.

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  • Just, Marion R., Ann N. Crigler, Dean E. Alger, Timothy E. Cook, Montague Kern, and Darrell M. West. Crosstalk: Citizens, Candidates, and the Media in a Presidential Campaign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    Detailed study of the information environment created for voters by the 1992 presidential campaign.

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  • Lau, Richard R., and David P. Redlawsk. How Voters Decide: Information Processing in Election Campaigns. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Explicates and tests a model of campaign effects at the individual level, by means of a methodology for tracing the fundamental processes experimentally. Argues for assessing not only the choices but also the quality of the choices voters make.

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  • Lodge, Milton, Marco R. Steenbergen, and Shawn Brau. “The Responsive Voter: Campaign Information and the Dynamics of Candidate Evaluation.” American Political Science Review 89 (1995): 309–326.

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    Argues for an online model of candidate evaluation, in which voters revise their evaluations of candidates in accordance with the campaign messages they receive, over a memory-based model, in which voters’ decisions rest on recollections about where the voters and candidates stand.

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  • Popkin, Samuel L. The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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    Argues that campaigns provide voters with valuable information and that voters use the information they acquire from campaigns to make their choices, based on “low-information rationality.”

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Histories of Political Advertising

Most of the works cited under Textbooks include brief histories of campaign advertising. Excellent extended accounts of the early development of presidential advertising are Jamieson 1996 and Diamond and Bates 1992. Brazeal and Benoit 2001 offers generalizations about ads in House and Senate campaigns. Dover 2010 and Fowler and Ridout 2010 describe the most recent advertising trends in campaigns for federal office.

Issue Advertising

Candidates’ campaigns are not the only organizations that air political advertising; trade associations and business groups, labor unions, the political parties, and a growing variety of independent groups also purchase newspaper space and television airtime to express their views. For a variety of reasons, the effects of issue advertising appear to be more complicated than those of ads sponsored by candidates. The effects may sometimes be delayed (Burgoon, et al. 1995) or limited to altering the importance attached to an issue (Cooper and Nownes 2004). Issue advertising sometimes may influence public opinion directly, as West, et al. 1996 finds, and sometimes may influence journalists, as Rabinowitz 2010 finds. But the impact of issue ads may not be altogether insidious, of course. As An, et al. 2006 shows, issue advertising holds the potential to help inform and mobilize the electorate.

  • An, Soontae, Hyun Seung Jin, and Michael Pfau. “The Effects of Issue Advocacy Advertising on Voters’ Candidate Issue Knowledge and Turnout.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 83 (2006): 7–24.

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    Finds that people who lived where more issue ads were aired were more likely to know where the candidates stood on issues and were more likely to vote.

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  • Burgoon, Michael, Michael Pfau, and Thomas S. Birk. “An Inoculation Theory Explanation for the Effects of Corporate Issue/Advocacy Advertising Campaigns.” Communication Research 22 (1995): 485–505.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365095022004006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Issue advertising may not dispose viewers to look more favorably on the sponsor, but it may prevent viewers from looking less favorably on the sponsor when the sponsor is subsequently attacked.

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  • Cooper, Christopher A., and Anthony J. Nownes. “Money Well Spent? An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of Advertorials on Citizen Opinion.” American Politics Research 32 (2004): 546–569.

    DOI: 10.1177/1532673X04263829Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Experimental study shows that an issue ad in a newspaper can make an issue more salient without changing peoples’ perceptions of the sponsor.

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  • Rabinowitz, Aaron. “Media Framing and Political Advertising in the Patients’ Bill of Rights Debate.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 35 (2010): 771–795.

    DOI: 10.1215/03616878-2010-027Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that news coverage of health-care issues in 1999, as the Patients’ Bill of Rights was being debated, was influenced by the advertising campaigns mounted by interest groups in some states.

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  • West, Darrell M., Diane Heith, and Chris Goodwin. “Harry and Louise Go to Washington: Political Advertising and Health Care Reform.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 21 (1996): 35–68.

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    Extensive study of ad campaigns run to support and oppose the Clinton health care reform plan. Finds that the public acquired negative impressions about the plan from the ads opposing it.

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Advertising Effects

Researchers have investigated the effects of campaign advertising in two general areas, for the most part: Some explore the influence of ads on the propensity of citizens to participate in politics—whether by voting, volunteering, or voicing an opinion in some other way—and on the attitudes and perceptions that underlie participation. Scholarship also addresses the question of whether and how ads can influence the choices voters make, either directly, by persuading them that one candidate is superior, or indirectly, by informing them about what the candidates stand for or increasing the weight voters give to factors favoring one candidate.

Engagement and Participation

The publication of Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1995 sparked a debate about the influence of advertising—especially advertising attacking a candidate—on voter turnout. Cited here are some of the best of the most recent work: Clinton and Lapinski 2004 exemplifies the experimental work, Franz, et al. 2007 and Shah, et al. 2007 analyze survey data, and Krasno and Green 2008 employs aggregate data. Brooks 2006 takes a fresh look at some of the data with which the debate began, and Lau, et al. 2007 offers a meta-analysis of the research in its entirety. Jackson, et al. 2009 illustrates the research examining the impact of ads on attitudes toward government and politics.

  • Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Shanto Iyengar. Going Negative: How Attack Ads Shrink and Polarize the Electorate. New York: Free Press, 1995.

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    Extremely influential indictment, based on experimental and observational studies, showing that negative advertising discourages political participation.

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  • Brooks, Deborah J. “The Resilient Voter: Moving toward Closure in the Debate over Negative Campaigning and Turnout.” Journal of Politics 68 (2006): 684–696.

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    Reanalysis of Ansolabehere and Iyengar’s data, suggesting that the effects of negative advertising are limited.

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  • Clinton, Joshua D., and John S. Lapinski. “‘Targeted’ Advertising and Voter Turnout: An Experimental Study of the 2000 Presidential Election.” Journal of Politics 66 (2004): 69–96.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1468-2508.2004.00142.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that negative ads neither systematically reduce nor systematically increase turnout. Any effects are contingent on the particular message and the characteristics of the people who receive it.

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  • Franz, Michael M., Paul B. Freedman, Kenneth M. Goldstein, and Travis N. Ridout. Campaign Advertising and American Democracy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

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    Extensive analysis of data about the incidence of broadcast campaign advertising gathered and disseminated by the Wisconsin Advertising Project, combined with a variety of survey data, to assess the impact of campaign advertising on citizens’ political knowledge and attitudes toward politics and government, and their engagement with and participation in politics. The authors argue that campaign ads mainly benefit American democracy in these respects.

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  • Jackson, Robert A., Jeffrey J. Mondak, and Robert Huckfeldt. “Examining the Possible Corrosive Impact of Negative Advertising on Citizens’ Attitudes toward Politics.” Political Research Quarterly 62 (2009): 55–69.

    DOI: 10.1177/1065912908317031Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Negative congressional campaign advertising in 2002 did not produce more negative views of politics among citizens.

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  • Krasno, Jonathan S., and Donald P. Green. “Do Televised Presidential Ads Increase Voter Turnout? Evidence from a Natural Experiment.” Journal of Politics 70 (2008): 245–261.

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    Finds that voter turnout in the 2000 election was unaffected by the volume of advertising—whether positive or negative—to which a media market was exposed.

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  • Lau, Richard R., Lee Sigelman, and Ivy Brown Rovner. “The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment.” Journal of Politics 69 (2007): 1176–1209.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00618.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that, on balance, research indicates that negative campaigning is not effective in attracting votes and does not reduce turnout.

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  • Shah, Dhavan V., Jaeho Cho, Seugahn Nah, Melissa R. Gotlieb, Hyunseo Hwang, Nam-Jin Lee, Roseanne M. Scholl, and Douglas M. McLeod. “Campaign Ads, Online Messaging, and Participation: Extending the Communication Mediation Model.” Journal of Communication 57 (2007): 676–703.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00363.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated application of communication theories to identify advertising effects. Finds that attack ads discourage voters from seeking additional information from other sources.

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Voter Preferences

The preferences voters express on Election Day primarily reflect conditions and predispositions that were in place before the campaign even began. More and more academic research has been devoted to exploring the impact that advertising can have on preferences, and the circumstances under which that impact can be of sufficient magnitude to sway an election’s outcome. Some of that research demonstrates that advertising is capable of focusing the minds of voters on particular features of the contest as they make their choice (McClurg and Holbrook 2009). Some confirms the capacity of advertising to persuade voters to support one candidate or another (Franz and Ridout 2010), while also delineating the limits of that capacity (Huber and Arceneaux 2007; Gerber, et al. 2011). And some uncovers the ways in which advertising evokes emotional responses that can influence voters’ preferences (Brader 2006).

Interaction between Advertising and News

News coverage of campaign advertising has become more common, as Kaid, et al. 1993 shows. One manifestation, as documented in Jamieson and Waldman 2000, is “ad watches”—stories devoted entirely to dissecting particular campaign ads, introduced by some newspapers and television news programs in the 1990s. Some observers hoped ad watches, by exposing the tactics, falsehoods, and other misleading features of ads, might discourage campaigns from producing such ads, and Cappella and Jamieson 1994 finds that ad watches indeed are capable of correcting the perceptions of voters misled by an inaccurate ad. Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1996 finds, however, that even an ad watch that criticizes an ad as inaccurate or unfair can benefit the ad’s sponsor by calling attention to the ad and conveying its message, though Pfau and Louden 1994 finds that the benefits to the sponsor can be influenced by the choice of the format in which the ad is broadcast during a televised ad watch. Moreover, Bennett 1997 finds that presidential campaign strategists were not so constrained, because they believed the benefits of such ads outweighed the costs of having their shortcomings revealed in an ad watch. And, as Fowler and Ridout 2009 shows, at least for Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, most news coverage of advertising focuses on the ads’ presentation and tone, not on issues or competing claims.

  • Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Shanto Iyengar. “Can the Press Monitor Campaign Advertising?” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 1 (1996): 72–86.

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    Experimental investigation during the 1992 presidential election shows that television ad watches benefit the candidate whose ad is the subject of the ad watch, even when the ad is criticized.

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  • Bennett, Courtney. “Assessing the Impact of Ad Watches on the Strategic Decision-Making Process: A Comparative Analysis of Ad Watches in the 1992 and 1996 Presidential Elections.” American Behavioral Scientist 40 (1997): 1161–1182.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002764297040008014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Because ad watches focus on campaign strategy and process, campaign strategists perceive them as ineffective, and ad watches therefore do not constrain their choices.

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  • Cappella, Joseph N., and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. “Broadcast Adwatch Effects: A Field Experiment.” Communication Research 21 (1994): 342–365.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365094021003006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A field experiment demonstrates that an ad watch can affect voters’ perceptions of the focus and fairness of a campaign ad, effectively mitigating the impact of a misleading ad.

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  • Fowler, Erika Franklin, and Travis N. Ridout. “Local Television and Newspaper Coverage of Political Advertising.” Political Communication 26 (2009): 119–136.

    DOI: 10.1080/10584600902850635Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Newspaper and local television stations devote extensive coverage to advertising in Senate and gubernatorial campaigns. Most focuses on the candidates and the tone of the campaign rather than on issues or the arguments made in the ads.

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  • Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Paul A. Waldman. “Watching the Adwatches.” In Campaign Reform: Insights and Evidence. Edited by Larry M. Bartels and Lynn Vavreck, 106–121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

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    An account of the historical development of the ad watch as a journalistic device.

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  • Kaid, Lynda Lee, Robert H. Gobetz, Jane Garner, Chris M. Leland, and David K. Scott. “Television News and Presidential Campaigns: The Legitimization of Televised Political Advertising.” Social Science Quarterly 74 (1993): 274–285.

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    The volume of news coverage devoted to covering presidential campaign advertising increased substantially between 1972 and 1988. News coverage emphasizes negative over positive aspects of ads.

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  • Pfau, Michael, and Allan Louden. “Effectiveness of Adwatch Formats in Deflecting Political Attack Ads.” Communication Research 21 (1994): 325–341.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365094021003005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An experimental test of the impact of alternative formats for displaying ads during televised ad watches shows that delineating the ad can reduce the extent to which an ad watch benefits the ad’s sponsor.

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Gender Differences

Scholars have been nterested in identifying and understanding differences between the ways in which women and men present themselves in campaigns for public office—face to face, in speech and prose, and on camera. Research has also explored differences in the treatment female and male candidates receive from other candidates and from the news media. Investigators have found differences—some due to the differences in presentation, some due to deeper stereotypes—in the terms with which voters evaluate female and male candidates.

Campaigning

In general, women face obstacles men do not face when running for office, and in response, men and women sometimes adopt different campaign strategies. Both the extent of the barriers and the effectiveness of the strategic choices depend critically on the circumstances of the particular race. Researchers comparing the issues typically emphasized by female and male candidates do not find a consistent and general pattern. Some see substantial differences (Bystrom, et al. 2004), some see limited (Dabelko and Herrnson 1997) or small differences (Panagopoulos 2004), and some see practically none (Dolan 2005; Sapiro, et al. 2011). Women and men do have different experiences as candidates, as Fox 1997 shows, and do hold different attitudes toward negative campaigning, as Herrnson and Lucas 2006 shows. Where differences in approaches to campaigning do emerge, they seem to reflect choices candidates make about how to grapple with stereotypes (Kahn 1996).

  • Bystrom, Dianne G., Terry Robertson, Mary Christine Banwart, and Lynda Lee Kaid, eds. Gender and Candidate Communication: Videostyle, Webstyle, Newstyle. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    Uses content analysis to explore the differences in presentation of men and women running for office, and investigates effects experimentally. Finds that women are more likely to stress particular policies and appeals. Women also smile more and dress more formally than male candidates.

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  • Dabelko, Kirsten La Cour, and Paul S. Herrnson. “Women’s and Men’s Campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives.” Political Research Quarterly 50 (1997): 121–135.

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    Men and women running for the House tended to disagree on some issues, but their campaigns were otherwise very similar.

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  • Dolan, Kathleen. “Do Women Candidates Play to Gender Stereotypes? Do Men Candidates Play to Women? Candidate Sex and Issues Priorities on Campaign Websites.” Political Research Quarterly 58 (2005): 31–44.

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    The websites of female candidates for Congress in 2000 and 2002 highlighted issues and images similar to those of male candidates, and did not focus on stereotypical issues.

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  • Fox, Richard L. Gender Dynamics in Congressional Elections. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997.

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    An in-depth study of the experiences of female and male candidates running for the House in California in 1992 and 1994.

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  • Herrnson, Paul S., and Jennifer C. Lucas. “The Fairer Sex? Gender and Negative Campaigning in U.S. Elections.” American Politics Research 34 (2006): 69–94.

    DOI: 10.1177/1532673X05278038Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds, using a survey of female candidates, that women running for office tend to reject negative campaigning, except with regard to issues related to gender.

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  • Kahn, Kim Fridkin. The Political Consequences of Being a Woman: How Stereotypes Influence the Conduct and Consequences of Political Campaigns. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

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    Comprehensive assessment of gender differences in campaigning, and their consequences with regard to media treatment and voter perceptions.

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  • Panagopoulos, Costas. “Boy Talk/Girl Talk: Gender Differences in Campaign Communications Strategies.” Women and Politics 26 (2004): 131–152.

    DOI: 10.1300/J014v26n03_06Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds systematic but small differences between campaign ads on behalf of female and male candidates—differences that tend to reinforce stereotypes.

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  • Sapiro, Virginia, Katherine Cramer Walsh, Patricia Strach, and Valerie Hennings. “Gender, Context, and Television Advertising: A Comprehensive Analysis of 2000 and 2002 House Races.” Political Research Quarterly 64 (2011): 107–119.

    DOI: 10.1177/1065912909343583Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Television ads in House races presented male and female candidates in very similar ways.

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News Coverage

News coverage of female and male candidates differs systematically in important ways, in local (Atkeson and Krebs 2008), statewide (Kahn 1994), and national (Heldman, et al. 2005; Lawrence and Rose 2010) campaigns.

  • Atkeson, Lonna Rae, and Timothy B. Krebs. “Press Coverage of Mayoral Candidates: The Role of Gender in News Reporting and Campaign Issue Speech.” Political Research Quarterly 61 (2008): 239–252.

    DOI: 10.1177/1065912907308098Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that news coverage is not biased in favor of male candidates, but the range of issue coverage is expanded when a woman is on the ballot.

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  • Heldman, Caroline, Susan J. Carroll, and Stephanie Olson. “‘She brought only a skirt’: Print Media Coverage of Elizabeth Dole’s Bid for the Republican Presidential Nomination.” Political Communication 22 (2005): 315–335.

    DOI: 10.1080/10584600591006564Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that the news media in 1999 gave Dole less coverage than could have been expected given her standing in the polls, and focused more on her personality and appearance than when covering the other, male candidates.

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  • Kahn, Kim Fridkin. “The Distorted Mirror: Press Coverage of Women Candidates for Statewide Office.” Journal of Politics 56 (1994): 154–173.

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    The news media devote less coverage to female than to male candidates in statewide races, and the coverage women receive tends to minimize their chances of winning. The issue agenda of news coverage corresponds more closely to the agenda in the television advertising of male candidates than of female candidates.

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  • Lawrence, Regina G., and Melody Rose. Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010.

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    Sophisticated and nuanced study of the Clinton campaign and news media coverage of it, and how the two interacted in the particular context of the 2008 Democratic nomination contest.

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Effects

Investigations of the effects of campaign advertising have uncovered a variety of ways in which those effects depend on gender. Stereotypes many voters hold about women, Sanbonmatsu 2002 shows, put female candidates at a disadvantage from the outset of many campaigns. Lawless 2004 makes clear, for example, that female candidates are at a disadvantage in elections in which national security is a prominent issue. Female candidates can benefit, on the other hand, from emphasizing particular issues in messages that target women (Herrnson, et al. 2003), from producing ads that are emotionally neutral (Hitchon, et al. 1997), or from attacking male opponents on issues associated with men (Gordon, et al. 2003). Schaffner 2005 confirms that the preferences of female voters in the end are affected by the choices candidates make about issues of special concern to women.

Racial and Ethnic Differences

Scholars have written both about the impact of campaigning that seeks to exploit racial or ethnic identifications and hostilities, and about campaigning that targets particular racial or ethnic groups. Mendelberg 2001 argues that implicit racial cues embedded in advertising on behalf of white candidates effectively invoke racial antipathy among white voters, with the consequence of influencing their policy preferences and evaluations of candidates. Huber and Lapinski 2006 finds, to the contrary, that making racial cues implicit makes them more effective only with small subgroups of white voters. Valentino, et al. 2002 extends the understanding of what constitute implicit cues and how they operate. McIlwain and Caliendo 2011 broadens the conversation to address racial appeals made by black candidates as well as white, news coverage of campaigns involving black candidates, and their effects on blacks as well as whites. Because Latino voters in general are more evenly divided than African Americans in their attachment to political parties, research involving Latinos has been more likely to investigate strategies and tactics aimed at Latino voters. Connaughton 2005 focuses on appeals designed to encourage Latinos to identify with a particular political party, whereas Abrajano 2010 concentrates on appeals made on behalf of candidates. Gordon and Miller 2005 compares the influence of gender, racial, and ethnic stereotypes invoked in campaign advertising.

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