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The big lessons of political advertising in 2018

By Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University; Michael Franz, Bowdoin College, and Travis N. Ridout, professor of political science, Washington State University

The 2018 midterm elections are in the books, the winners have been declared and the 30-second attack ads are—finally—over.

Travis Ridout.

As co-directors of the Wesleyan Media Project, which has tracked and analyzed campaign advertising since 2010, we spend a lot of time assessing trends in the volume and content of political advertising.

Because we have television data that span a number of elections, we can provide detailed information on how prominent TV ads are overall or in any given location, how many different types of sponsors are active and how the content of advertising compares to prior election cycles.

Of course, television is not the only medium through which campaigns attempt to reach voters. But online advertising, which represents the biggest growth market, has been much harder to track.

Prior to May of 2018, for instance, social media giants like Google and Facebook did not release any information at all on political advertising, so tracking online advertising began in earnest only this cycle.

Although Americans frequently complain about campaign advertising, it remains an important way through which candidates for office can communicate their ideas directly to citizens, especially those who would not necessarily seek out the information themselves.

What role did political advertising play in the 2018 midterm elections? Here are our top observations:

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Ballots not cast can still sway elections

Washington elections officials might be duly proud that the 2018 midterm had near-record voter turnout and more ballots cast than any other elections save the last two presidential contests.

Behind the positive news that nearly 72 percent of the voters cast some 3.1 million ballots, however, there’s a negative: Almost 30 percent didn’t vote, and more than 1 million ballots that were mailed out didn’t come back.

This in a state that for years has worked to make it easier to register, by mail, online and in person. Washington arguably makes it easier to vote than any other state.

Democrats may be courting the types of voters who are least likely to cast ballots, said Cornell Clayton, who teaches government and politics at Washington State University, where he serves as director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service.

“It’s typical that Democratic voters don’t turn out at the same level as Republicans, especially in midterms,” Clayton said.

Democrats tend to make their appeals to younger voters and lower-income voters, both of whom may be more mobile than average, he said. While the turnout for younger voters might have been up this election, it was probably well below that of older voters, who tend to back Republicans in recent years.

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Ferguson details pushback against White House

Washington attorney general has gone 15-0 against the Trump administration in federal court decisions

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson takes great pride in his legal staff, but he credits President Donald Trump with much of the state’s recent success in suing the federal government.

Speaking to a packed house at Washington State University’s Foley Institute on Thursday, Ferguson said the Trump administration’s frequent defeats in the federal court system the past two years stem largely from its own inability or unwillingness to follow the letter of the law. The Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service is administered through the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at WSU.

“This [Trump] administration doesn’t go through a very rigorous process of review before taking action,” he said.

Sociologist among three WSU faculty named AAAS 2018 Fellows

Three Washington State University faculty have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson.
Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson

Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, was elected for her “distinguished contributions to research on life course development focusing on how adolescents transitioning into adulthood is impacted by different social relationships and economic resources.”

The new WSU fellows are among 416 members who will be awarded for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications on Feb. 16 during the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. They will be formally announced Thursday in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science.

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Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Washington Had High Voter Turnout This Year. Except A Few Counties Like Yakima. Why?

As election season simmers down, data rolls in. This year, nearly half of eligible U.S. voters cast ballots. That may not sound like much, but it is the highest voter turnout for a midterm election since the 1960s.

In Washington, most counties saw higher than average voter turnout this year. Except two.

Yakima County had the lowest voter turnout in the state at 37 percent. Skagit County had the second lowest.

Meanwhile, counties like Jefferson and Garfield had the highest at 82 percent. On average, 66 percent of Washington voters came out this year.

Travis Ridout.
Travis Ridout

Washington State University political science professor Travis Ridout thinks demographics has something to do with voting patterns.

“I suspect we see lower turnout in Yakima County, and there’s a large Hispanic population,” Ridout said. “Hispanics just don’t vote at the rate of other people. Not just in Washington state, that’s true nationally as well.”

He thinks how politicians reach out to Hispanic/Latino constituents also has something to do with it. Ridout calls it a “chicken and egg” problem. Hispanic voters don’t show up at the polls, so politicians don’t reach out to them. And because Hispanic voters don’t feel like most candidates appeal to them, they don’t vote.

There’s also potential language barriers that keep some voters from participating, the lack of  civic engagement historically, and even voter suppression.

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Northwest Public Radio