Polling News

Message Mattered In 2016 Presidential Advertising

March 09, 2017

An analysis of Wesleyan Media Project data published in The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics found 2016 presidential television advertising differed from past trends in volume, timing, and messaging.  The Clinton campaign had a huge on-air advantage over the Trump campaign, running 402,344 ads over the course of the 2015-2016 election cycle compared to the Trump campaign’s 120,908 ads.  This advantage was especially pronounced in the campaign’s final two months (198,689 Clinton campaign ads to 76,068 Trump campaign ads).  The Clinton campaign’s problem was their message as they dedicated more ads to personality traits alone compared to any other presidential campaign in the last 16 years. 

Over 60% of Hillary Clinton’s advertising focused on candidate characteristics, while only 25% concentrated on policies.  Donald Trump’s advertising, on the other hand, was a little over 10% personality-driven versus 70% policy-focused.  The Trump campaign was more conventional in its approach.  Every presidential campaign since 2000, with the exception of John McCain’s, devoted less than 25% to personalities and at least 60% to policy positions. 

Despite their volume advantage, the Clinton campaign’s personality-dominant message did not win over voters.  The Trump campaign offered policy positions.  Democrats now trying to make sense of their 2016 loss should keep this in mind.  If they keep repeating their mistakes by focusing more on President Trump personally instead of offering their own agenda to Americans, they could remain in the wilderness for the foreseeable future.

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