Trump & Culture War Featured in 2017 Gov Advertising

NJ & VA see more pro-Democratic advertising on television

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(MIDDLETOWN, CT) November 6, 2017 – As Election Day approaches, the gubernatorial races to replace New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe are heading into the final push. Democratic candidates for governor in both New Jersey and Virginia have an edge in the televised air war. As shown in Table 1, TV advertising in Virginia is particularly heated, up 37 percent over the race in 2013, while New Jersey has seen fewer ads, primarily due to less advertising on the Republican side.

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Table 1: Volume of Gubernatorial Ads in 2017 v. 2013

  20132017% Change
Figures are from Jan 1 to the Thursday before Election Day for each cycle.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
New JerseyPro-Dem3,1303,111-1%
Pro-Rep7,3092,412-67%
Total10,4395,523-47%
VirginiaPro-Dem33,45140,71322%
Pro-Rep23,93330,29227%
Total57,38471,00524%
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Anti-Trump Messages from Democrats; Immigration from Republicans

Advertising in the race in Virginia has focused heavily on issues of health care, jobs and education, with nearly half of the pro-Democratic airings containing an explicitly anti-Trump message. Pro-Republican airings by contrast have focused on issues of public safety (referencing felons and sex offenders), the economy and immigration.

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Table 2: Top Issues in Virginia Gov Race

Pro-Democratic AiringsPro-Republican Airings
Figures are from January 1, 2017 through November 2, 2017.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Health care52%Public Safety43%
Anti-Trump47%Economy32%
Jobs44%Immigration27%
Education42%Taxes26%
Energy/Environment36%Jobs26%
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In New Jersey, pro-Democratic advertising have overwhelmingly focused on corruption issues with the economy and education a very distant second and third. Anti-Trump references are present in 17 percent of pro-Democratic airings. Two out of every three pro-Republican airings hammer on the issue of taxes, with public safety and immigration being a very distant second and third.

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Table 3: Top Issues in New Jersey Gov Race

Pro-Democratic AiringsPro-Republican Airings
Figures are from January 1, 2017 through November 2, 2017.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Corruption71%Taxes66%
Economy44%Immigration26%
Education35%Public Safety26%
Budget34%Minimum Wage8%
Financial Reform33%Jobs4%
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VA: Candidates Dominate Airings, 40 Percent Negative

The Virginia contest between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam is one to watch. Candidate-sponsored airings have made up over 90 percent of the general election ads on air in the race for Virginia governor (from June 14 through November 2, 2017). Democrat Ralph Northam has sponsored 42,271 airings compared to 30,332 from Republican Ed Gillespie. Outside groups have been slightly more active on behalf of Gillespie, airing 3,580 ads to 2,329 from pro-Northam groups.

The race has seen considerable negativity. Over four in ten ads aired were pure negative ads. Contrast advertising, which mentions both the favored candidate and the opponent has made up just 20 percent of the total, while 35 percent of ads have been positive. Breaking down by sponsor (Figure 1), one sees that groups have been especially negative; almost all of the positive ads in the race were sponsored by candidates.

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Figure 1: Ad Tone by Sponsor in Virginia
Gov General Election (June 14 – November 2, 2017)


Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

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About This Report

Data reported here do not cover local cable buys, only broadcast television, national network and national cable buys.

The Wesleyan Media Project provides real-time tracking and analysis of all political television advertising in an effort to increase transparency in elections. Housed in Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center – part of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life – the Wesleyan Media Project is the successor to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which disbanded in 2009. It is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government at Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College and Travis N. Ridout, professor of political science at Washington State University. WMP staff include Laura Baum (Project Manager), Dolly Haddad (Project Coordinator) and Matthew Motta (Research Associate).


The Wesleyan Media Project
is supported by Wesleyan University. Data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Periodic releases of data will be posted on the project’s website and dispersed via Twitter @wesmediaproject.
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For more information contact:
Lauren Rubenstein, lrubenstein@wesleyan.edu, (860) 398-9018
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About Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., is known for the excellence of its academic and co-curricular programs. With more than 2,900 undergraduates and 200 graduate students, Wesleyan is dedicated to providing a liberal arts education characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism. For more, visit www.wesleyan.edu.

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