Which messages in campaign ads raise money?

Which messages from which messengers mobilize campaign contributions?  This is the question I tackle in my latest working paper.  To answer it, I constructed a time-series cross-section dataset that matched advertising data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project in 2004 to data on individual campaign contributions from the Federal Election Commission by county and day. In order to minimize concerns about omitted variable bias, I limit my study to non-battleground states and include both day and county fixed effects.

Consistent with the social identity approach (applied to partisan identity) the paper uses to frame the analysis, I find that:

  • Only the positive ads that explicitly mention partisan identity generate contributions to the campaigns that air them. Furthermore, these ads’ impact on giving is greater where the underlying partisanship of the county is more favorable, an interaction that is substantively weaker for ads that do not mention partisan identity.
  • Negative ads, which by their nature emphasize the threat of the opposition, also increase donations to the candidates that air them
  • Positive ads only decrease donations to the opposition candidate if they focus on the personal characteristics of the favored candidate, making them more identifiable to the audience.
  • There is some (small) evidence of a backlash, where negative ads raise money for the target of the attack.

I conclude that partisan identities strongly frame the way that potential donors respond to political messages. Importantly, these findings are consistent with other recent work on campaign contributions, such as Adam Bonica’s finding that Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” comment during the 2010 State of the Union both raised money for Wilson and Wilson’s opponent, and that these donors were more ideological extreme than earlier Wilson donors.

I’ve also updated my earlier paper on using the effect of advertising on giving evaluated with the broadcast advertising experiment conducted with Rick Perry’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign.  Thanks to all who contributed helpful feedback.  Also, since Rick Perry is now running for President, his campaign has put online all of his old ads, including the one used in the experiment which you can now view on YouTube here.


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