From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 4 NO. 1
Assessing Network TV Ad Watches in the 2012 Presidential Election
This study sought to learn about how major broadcast media outlets use presidential campaign and ad watches during the 2012 presidential election.
Based on the analysis of the ad watches of the 2012 presidential campaign advertisements, the following conclusions were drawn. All ad watches featured campaign advertisements that attacked the opposing party, most ad watches contained fact checking, and most ad watches featured candidate sponsored ads. Overall, these results show that the ad watches by CNN, ABC and FOX News often involve negative or popular campaign advertisements, feature political analyst and anchor critiques, often involve fact checking the campaign advertisements, and use advertisements that do not feature war imagery.
These results are significant for the theory of media agenda setting because they reveal how the media shape public perception of political events. Watching ad watches on a major news network drastically influences how an individual might perceive certain candidates and even an election. Based on the results researchers can see that media outlets are more likely to use campaign advertisements with certain characteristics in their ad watches. This leads the viewers of these ad watches to receive specifically crafted messages and thus form a biased view of a candidate or election. The media, through these ad watches, are setting a specific political agenda that may ultimately influence the way the American electorate perceive a candidate when they see ad watches. Simply, the results show that the broadcast networks are analyzing and filtering campaign advertisements at their own discretion, and the audience is receiving a new, filtered message about these advertisements. The original campaign advertisement message would not be the same as the message the audience would finally get through an ad watch.
Additionally, this study tried to provide insight into why media outlets picked up certain political advertisements in the 2012 presidential election campaign. The majority of the ad watches in this study were for campaign advertisements that a candidate sponsored, attacked the opponent, and used patriotic and family imagery. Most ad watches typically occurred in the beginning months of an election cycle and very few,
if any, occurred as the months progressed closer to Election Day. In the beginning of the campaign season, media outlets may have been struggling to find campaign news to report, whereas closer to Election Day, the plethora of campaign news may crowd out ad watches. Also, as Election Day approached, the networks may focus more on fact checking campaign debates and speeches instead of the campaign advertisements.
Overall, this study contributed to the field of ad watches by finding the typical variables that may change the meaning of advertisements used in ad watches. However, this study only examined a small group of media outlets and ad watches, so the results cannot be generalized. Further research should be done on the media outlets’ political leanings, the analysts they chose to use for the ad watches, and how the ad watches of the 2012 presidential election compare to past presidential election ad watches. Perhaps, with this further research some general conclusions can be made about the reasoning behind why media outlets chose specific campaign advertisements. However, even without this additional research, this study contributed to the current research on ad watches in the 2012 presidential election. All in all, there is still a need for future research on this topic, but this study has added to the discussion of ad watches and political communication.
This author is thankful to Dr. Scott at Elon University for his supervision and advice, without which the articles could not be published. The author also appreciates numerous reviewers who have helped revise this article.
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Appendix B: List of Links for the Ad Watches Analyzed
CNN (search term campaign ad)
6. http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2012/10/19/ac-kth-romney-obama-abortion-stance. cnn
ABC (search term campaign ad)
FOX News (search term ad watch)