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2018 Political Advertising Year-end Summary Published in PS

(MIDDLETOWN, CT) September 27, 2019 — New research published in PS by Erika Franklin Fowler, Michael M. Franz and Travis N. Ridout, co-directors of the Wesleyan Media Project, offers a post-mortem on political advertising in 2018, providing important context for that year’s “blue wave” in which Democrats picked up 40 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Using ad tracking data from the Wesleyan Media Project, the authors find that in the vast majority of races, there were more pro-Democratic than pro-Republican ads, including in the most competitive contests—and even in those races that leaned Republican.  There was one theme that united pro-Democratic advertising: health care.  The issue was mentioned in nearly three of every five Democratic ads in the fall campaign, though Republicans did not shy from the issue either.  

Contrary to the narrative that television is declining, a record number of television ads aired in the 2018 midterms, whereas digital spending still constituted only around 10 percent of overall advertising spending for most candidates’ campaigns.

Finally, there was a healthy volume of outside-group spending in 2018.  One change from the past was that “dark-money” groups, which had spent the bulk of their money in support of Republicans in past races, spent more in support of Democratic candidates in 2018.

Full text of the article can be found here.