Media Project Tracks Ad Spending – Finds Negativity Rules in Ads for Midterm Elections

The Knight-funded Wesleyan Media Project has been getting a lot of press for its real-time analysis of all broadcast advertisements aired by or on behalf of federal and state election candidates this election season.

Today, the project announced that this year’s campaign was the most negative in history. From the release:

Citizens are seeing many more ads this year, but it is no longer simply the number of ads on the air that are making this campaign feel more negative. More than half of all ads are pure attack ads, and if we include contrast spots, roughly 2 out of every 3 ads on the air are negative.’ said Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Wesleyan University launched the non-partisan project in order to track and make publicly available information about who is spending how much to influence the mid-term election. The project tracks which candidates are benefiting from what has been record-breaking spending in 2010, in the wake of the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations.

The results of the project have been cited in local and national media throughout this election cycle. Among the citations:

  • Politico detailed the project’s findings, noting that the project found a 75 percent increase in advertising spending in a crucial few weeks at the end of the election cycle.
  • CBS noted the project found that conservative interest groups outspent their Democratic competitors 10 to one during that five-week period.
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighted research by the project showing Wisconsin’s governor’s race in the top three nationwide in terms of dollars spent.
  • Bloomberg Businessweek referred to the project’s analysis of the Connecticut race for Senate that found that candidate Linda McMahon had personally paid for 70 percent of the ads in that race for Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat.

The project uses data collected by Kantar Media/CMAG, a commercial firm that tracks advertising for corporate and political clients. Project staff then codes the data, researching who placed the ad and distinguishing between ads paid for by specific candidate campaigns and those funded by special interest groups and soft money campaigns. The project also analyzes the content of the ads.

The Wesleyan Media Project is the successor to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which disbanded in 2009. It is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University and collaborators Michael M. Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College and Travis N. Ridout, associate professor of political science at Washington State University.

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