Political Advertising Online and Offline

Political Advertising Online and Offline

By Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, Bowdoin College, Gregory J. Martin, Stanford University, Zachary Peskowitz, Emory University and Travis N. Ridout, Washington State University

Despite the rapid growth of online political advertising, the vast majority of scholarship on political advertising relies exclusively on evidence from candidates’ television advertisements. The relatively low cost of creating and deploying online advertisements and the ability to target online advertisements more precisely may broaden the set of candidates who advertise and allow candidates to craft messages to more narrow audiences than on television. Drawing on data from the newly released Facebook Ad Library API and television data from the Wesleyan Media Project, we find that a much broader set of candidates advertises on Facebook than television, particularly in down-ballot races. We then examine within-candidate variation in the strategic use and content of advertising on television relative to Facebook for all federal, statewide, and state legislative candidates in the 2018 election. Among candidates who use both advertising media, Facebook advertising occurs earlier in the campaign, is less negative, less issue focused, and more partisan than television advertising.

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