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Midterm Election Ads: Barrage In Numbers And Negativity

Jan 12, 2011

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We knew the recent midterm elections were expensive because of the oversaturation of the airwaves as Republicans rode the crest of voter unhappiness with Democrats due to high joblessness and the health car law while Democrats fought, unsuccessfully, to limit their losses.

Some academic research helps us gain a clearer picture of just how many TV ads voters were bombarded with and their messages.

Among the findings of the Wesleyan Media Project out of Wesleyan University in Connecticut was that the greater number of competitive races in 2010 compared with 2008 not only set the stage for a record number of ads but record spending and attacks.

A review of the advertising revealed a significantly higher stream of negative ads than was true in 2008, the researchers said.

More than 53 percent of the ads between Labor Day and Election Day were negative. (Unfortunately, the study didn't provide numbers for comparison for past cycles so we just have to take their word for it.)

Also, gone was the "hope" theme that figured prominently in Democrats' 2008 campaigns.

Instead, Democrats campaigned on the jobs as did Republicans.

But Republicans owned the "change" theme which Democrats had owned two years earlier.

And, no surprise, while Democrats ran away from health care as an issue, Republicans embraced, mentioning it in their ads three times as often tas Democrats.

An excerpt from the report:

There is little doubt that 2010 was a record-breaking year for campaign advertising. Based on Wesleyan Media Project analysis of Kantar Media/CMAGdata, the battle for control of Congress racked up a total of nearly 1.6 million airings ... which is a 36 percent increase over 2008. The estimated cost of these airings is $735 million, a 61 percent increase over 2008. Gubernatorial advertising was particularly intense, with over 1.3 million ads airing from January1 to Election Day in the 37 states holding elections for governor. The cost of these airings was estimated at $697 million.

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