2nd Edition

Political Advertising in the United States

    198 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    198 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Political Advertising in the United States examines the volume, distribution, content, and effects of political advertising in congressional and presidential elections. The book considers the role of television ads using extensive data on ad airings on local broadcast stations. It also analyzes newly available data on paid digital ads, including ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube. The book covers the role of outside groups in airing ads, including the rise of dark money groups and gaps in existing federal campaign finance laws around transparency of outside group spending. The authors consider how ad sponsors design and target ads. They also review the positive and negative implications of an electoral system where billions are spent on paid advertising. With detailed analysis of presidential and congressional campaign ads and discussion questions in each chapter, this accessibly written book is a must-read for students, scholars, and practitioners who want to understand the ins and outs of political advertising.

    New to the Second Edition

    • Covers the spending, content, and tone of political advertising in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and the 2018 midterms, looking ahead to 2022 and 2024.

    • Addresses the interference of foreign actors in elections and their connection to political advertising.

    • Expands the discussion of digital political advertising and incorporates this topic into every chapter.

    • Adds a new chapter specifically addressing digital ad content and spending.

    • Includes data from the Facebook, Google, and Snapchat ad libraries and explores the role of these companies in regulating the sale of political advertising.

    • Incorporates new data on the effects of race and gender in advertising, including what is known about the way in which advertising may activate prejudicial attitudes.

    List of Illustrations



    1 Introduction

    Why Study Political Advertising?

    Four Key Arguments

    History of Campaign Advertising

    Tracking Advertising

    Plan of the Book

    Discussion Questions


    2 The Regulation of Advertising

    The Rules of Campaign Financing

    The Impact of the Rules


    Discussion Questions


    3 The Volume and Content of Political Advertising on Television

    Volume of Television Advertising

    Tone of Television Advertising

    Issues in Television Advertising


    Discussion Questions


    4 The Challenge of Online Advertising

    What is Digital Advertising?

    Digital Ad Spending in 2020

    What Digital Advertising Looks Like

    Understanding the Online Ad Landscape

    The Bad and Good of Online Advertising


    Discussion Questions


    5 How Ads Are Created and Tested

    The Elements of a Political Ad

    Making the Ad


    Discussion Questions


    6 Buying and Targeting Political Advertising on Television

    Buying Decisions

    Outlets for Political Advertising

    Targeting Political Advertising

    The Changing Media Landscape and Its Effect on Voters

    Examining Ad Targeting Through Ad Airings and Media Consumption Data


    Discussion Questions


    7 Studying the Persuasive Effects of Advertising

    The History of Media Influence Research and Current Challenges

    What We Know About Advertising’s Ability to Persuade

    How Do We Know What We Know? The Importance of Research Design


    Discussion Questions


    8 Beyond Persuasion: Mobilization and Other Effects of Advertising

    Does Advertising Influence Our Political Participation?

    What Do We Learn from Advertising?

    Do We Accurately Perceive Advertising and Campaign Tone?

    Does Advertising Affect Our Trust in the Political System?

    Does Advertising Affect Our Health as a Society or Reflect a Just and Equal Society? The Darker Side of Campaign Appeals


    Discussion Questions


    9 The Future of Political Advertising and Its Role in Our Society

    Technological Change

    Changes in Regulation

    Broader Impacts of Political Advertising


    Discussion Questions






    Erika Franklin Fowler is Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

    Michael Franz is Professor of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

    Travis N. Ridout is Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and Public Policy and Director of the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at Washington State University and is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

    Praise for Political Advertising in the United States, Second Edition

    "There are many strengths to this book, but its defining strength lies in the unique ability to provide evidence-based, cutting edge insights about the rapidly evolving area of digital political advertising. Given that our need to understand the political implications of digital advertising is increasingly urgent, the data presented in this book make it an extremely valuable contribution and educational tool."

    --Johanna Dunaway, Texas A&M University

    "I thought that the first edition of this book could not be bettered. But Fowler, Franz and Ridout have surpassed themselves in this second edition. Drawing on their vast research experience and knowledge, as well as the Wesleyan Media Project data that keep getting better and better, Fowler et al. bring us fully up-to-date on all aspects of political advertising in the United States. While the focus is on the United States, the authors’ insights in chapters on issues such as digital advertising and the challenges of researching advertising effects also have implications for political communication in other countries in which campaigns are increasingly Americanized."

    --Daniel Stevens, University of Exeter

    "Fowler, Franz, and Ridout did scholars, candidates, and campaign professionals an enormous favor by writing the first edition of this book. They not only described the landscape of political advertising in the United States, but synthesized the vast literature on advertising effects in an accessible manner. The new edition’s heightened focus on digital advertising, as well as the effects of race and gender in advertising, make it a must-read for anyone interested campaign strategy."

    -- Keena Lipsitz, Queens College, City University of New York

    Praise for the Previous Edition

    "The book is jam-packed with data that illustrate the key arguments advanced by the authors, and the quantitative analyses are presented in an accessible way. In addition, the authors provide a host of examples throughout to help make their points and engage readers. Readers also get an inside look at how political advertising is developed in campaigns, including how ads are created, tested, and purchased. What is especially nice about the book is that it clearly defines and explains the key concepts related to political advertising. This book provides a great introduction to political advertising in US political campaigns. Highly recommended."


    "The authors pull together varied research areas including persuasion, negative advertising, and campaign finance laws and rulings to provide a clear and comprehensive narrative of political advertising. The writing is engaging and the use of vignettes provides students with clear examples of why, when, and how political advertising matters. Anyone who wants to know how political advertising works must read this seminal book."

    --James Druckman, Northwestern University