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Freedman, Franz, and Goldstein: Campaign advertising and democratic citizenship

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Freedman, Franz, and Goldstein. 2004. Campaign advertising and democratic citizenship. AJPS 48:723-741.


Though our theories say that debates, news, speeches, and so on are all good for democracy, we often malign candidate advertisements. The authors disagree: Candidate ads also provide meaningful information, and they simultaneously provide useful emotional cues (cf. Brader 2005). People who see these ads, then, should be more informed than other people; this effect is especially strong among those who have the least information about politics to begin with.


  1. Information hypothesis: "citizens exposed to campaign advertising will actually learn something about the candidates and their messages.
  2. Engagement hypothesis: "due in part to its information-enhancing function and in part to the emotional content of much campaign advertising, ad exposure will cause people to be more interested in a particular election, more cognitively and affectively involved with the campaigns, and ultimately more likely to participate by turning out on Election Day."
  3. Differential effects hypothesis: "these effects will be greatest among those who need the information most: citizens who have lower levels of political information to begin with."


  • Uses content analysis of ads from various campaigns across the nation: when the ads were shown, during what shows, and in what markets.
  • By combining this with ANES data about television viewership (times and programs watched) and region, they estimate each respondent's exposure to campaign ads


They find modest evidence in their favor: "Specifically, our findings show that exposure to campaign advertising produces citizens who are more interested in the election, have more to say about the candidates, are more familiar with who is running, and ultimately, are more likely to vote."

Main contribution

  • A new, excellent data set of which ads were shown when and where.
  • And yes, ads to provide some information.