An Overview of the Wisconsin Advertising Project

Since 1998, the Wisconsin Advertising Project (WiscAds) has undertaken research initiatives to document how candidates, political parties and special interest groups communicate with voters. Initially, WiscAds studied campaign advertisements in the nation’s 75 largest media markets by collecting and analyzing all political advertisements aired on broadcast and cable stations. For the 2002 electoral cycle, the project increases in scope to the 100 largest media markets. This unique database, which has been made possible through a relatively new technology developed by the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), now contains information on the airing of over 1.5 million ads between 1998 and 2002, see The Data.

Television advertising is the primary way that modern political campaigns communicate with potential voters. In a typical presidential, congressional or gubernatorial election, spending on television advertising comprises the greatest proportion of a campaign’s budget. To date, the lack of comprehensive data on the content, timing, volume and targeting of political advertising has limited what policy makers, journalists and scholars can report about the strategies employed by campaigns and the balance of advertising in particular contests. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive data on advertising activity by parties and interest groups, increasingly active players in advertising campaigns, not only has limited what could be said about the activities of these crucial players but also has made it difficult for a complete picture of advertising activity to be drawn. Finally, the lack of comprehensive data on political advertising has made it difficult for scholars to study the effect and effectiveness of these communications. Put simply, without comprehensive data on the targeting, volume and content of advertising by all the players involved, it has been difficult to study the effect of the main persuasive tool utilized by modern electoral campaigns.

the lack of comprehensive data on political advertising has made it difficult for scholars to study the effect and effectiveness of these communications.

Until recently, it has been virtually impossible to gather comprehensive and accurate information about the content and targeting of national campaign ads. To be sure, it has always been possible to undertake the arduous process of visiting individual stations in selected markets and examining their advertising logs (Magleby 2001), or attempting to gather ad-buy data directly from campaigns (Shaw 1999). Still, such methods cannot provide comprehensive information on both content and targeting at the level of the ad, and these methods have only been employed on a limited scale. Furthermore, these methods often provide no details about party and interest group advertising, an increasingly important part of the strategic mix in modern campaigns. WiscAds aims to tackle this problem.

press release

tv icon

Report on Campaign Advertising in 2008

The 2010 Midterm elections are shaping up to be extraordinarily competitive as the Democrats fight to retain control of Congress and the two parties battle for Governors’ mansions across the country. The perfect storm of an unusually large number of contests in play, the high stakes involved with control of Congress, and the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case have led many, including President Barack Obama, to predict that we will see enormous and record breaking levels of political advertising across the country in 2010. This report looks back on the 2008 campaign for general insight on what might be to come in 2010.


Obama Outspending McCain 3 to 1 on TV; Nearly 75% of Presidential Ad Spending in Red States

From October 21st to Octv icontober 28th, spending on television advertising in the presidential campaign has totaled nearly $38 million. Over this time period, the Obama campaign spent nearly $21.5 million while the McCain campaign spent nearly $7.5 million. Another $6.7 million was spent by the Republican Party and $2.2 million was spent by interest groups.




latest podcast

podcast icon

WiscAds Video Podcast #2 (02/03/08)

Ken Goldstein discusses the shape of campaign advertising heading into Super Tuesday.

podcast icon

WiscAds Video Podcast #1 (01/31/08)

Ken Goldstein introduces the Wisconsin Advertising Project and lets you know what you will be in for in the upcoming year.

supported by

the joyce foundation