The effect of new media on political advertising: television ads and internet ads in the 2008 presidential primary

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Title: The effect of new media on political advertising: television ads and internet ads in the 2008 presidential primary
Author: Dube, William
Abstract: Internet advertising has become an important political campaign tool, accounting for over $110 million in spending in the 2008 election, but government regulations and industry norms that govern content presented in television advertising do not apply to Internet communication. This study investigated the differences in political advertising content between ads produced for television versus the Internet. First, a content analysis was conducted using a sample of political advertisements produced by the McCain and Obama campaigns during the 2008 election to measure differences in negativity, accuracy, and accountability. Second, content gatekeepers at television stations and Internet companies were interviewed to verify the findings of the content analysis and to determine whether differences in regulations and norms were responsible for the results. The content analysis found substantial differences, as Internet ads were less accountable and accurate, but more positive than television ads. In response to these findings, the gatekeepers indicated that differences in accountability were due to the regulatory regimes for both media. Of particular importance is a loophole in Federal Elections Commission (FEC) advertising rules, which states that only paid communications are regulated. Since most Internet ads are uploaded for free to advertiser-supported sites such as YouTube, they are not subject to FEC regulations. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission regulates TV political ads but not Internet ads. Based on these findings two recommendations were developed. First, FEC rules should be amended to regulate all political advertisements regardless of where the ad is shown. Second, the regulatory oversight of producers of political advertising on the Internet should be strengthened to conform more closely to regulatory regimes in traditional media.
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Date: 2009-05-11

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