The Informative Power Of Campaign Advertising

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The Informative Power Of Campaign Advertising

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Americans' abilities to vote for candidates who represent their policy views has important implications for their representation in government. However, while policy voting theoretically requires knowing where candidates stand on major policy issues (i.e., "campaign knowledge"), it is most typically studied in relation of what people know about civics (i.e., "civic knowledge"). I advance prior research by considering how Americans acquire campaign knowledge, and whether or not this information helps voters select candidates who share their policy preferences. I theorize that policy-focused political ad exposure provides most people with campaign knowledge – especially those who are the least politically engaged. Americans in turn use this information, more so than civic knowledge, to vote for candidates whose issue stances match their own. Merging campaign advertising data from the Wesleyan Media Project into nationally representative cross-sectional and longitudinal opinion data, I find consistent support for both sets of expectations. I conclude by discussing the informational benefits of policy-focused advertising, and considering the impact of changing media and campaign dynamics on Americans' knowledge about politics.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2018. Major: Political Science. Advisor: Joanne Miller. 1 computer file (PDF); 259 pages.

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Motta, Matthew. (2018). The Informative Power Of Campaign Advertising. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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