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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

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Volume 14, Issue 4 (Dec 2016)


Political Advertising in 2016: The Presidential Election as Outlier?

Erika Franklin Fowler
  • Corresponding author
  • Associate Professor, Department of Government, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, USA
  • Email:
/ Travis N. Ridout
  • Corresponding author
  • Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor, School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
  • Email:
/ Michael M. Franz
  • Corresponding author
  • Associate Professor, Department of Government and Legal Studies, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2017-02-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2016-0040


The 2016 presidential campaign broke the mold when it comes to patterns of political advertising. Using data from the Wesleyan Media Project, we show the race featured far less advertising than the previous cycle, a huge imbalance in the number of ads across candidates and one candidate who almost ignored discussions of policy. This departure from past patterns, however, was not replicated at the congressional level. We draw some lessons about advertising from the 2016 campaign, suggesting that its seeming lack of effectiveness may owe to the unusual nature of the presidential campaign with one unconventional candidate and the other using an unconventional message strategy, among other non-advertising related factors.


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About the article

Erika Franklin Fowler

Erika Franklin Fowler is Associate Professor Government at Wesleyan University and serves as co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising in the United States.

Travis N. Ridout

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

Michael M. Franz

Michael M. Franz is Associate Professor of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College. He also serves as co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Published Online: 2017-02-22

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Citation Information: The Forum, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2016-0040. Export Citation

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