The Blue Wave: Assessing Political Advertising Trends and Democratic Advantages in 2018

The Blue Wave: Assessing Political Advertising Trends and Democratic Advantages in 2018

Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, Bowdoin College, Travis N. Ridout, Washington State University

This research offers a post-mortem on political advertising in 2018, providing important context for 2018’s “blue wave.” In a majority of US House of Representatives races, there were more pro-Democratic than pro-Republican ads, including in the most competitive contests. The one theme that united pro-Democratic advertising was health care, which was mentioned in nearly three of every five Democratic ads in the fall campaign. Contrary to the narrative that television is declining, a record number of television ads aired in the 2018 midterms, whereas digital spending still constituted a small percentage of overall advertising spending for most candidate campaigns. Finally, there was a healthy volume of outside group spending in 2018, with “dark-money” groups increasing their involvement—especially in support of Democratic candidates.

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