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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, October 14, 2014

We’ve spent a lot of time looking over the messages emphasized most in 2014 TV advertising in the aggregate. Now that we’re in the final month of this cycle’s battle for the Senate, what issues are the two sides relying on most for their final arguments?

Here are the top 15 most-mentioned issues and issue positions, as coded by CMAG, in Senate TV advertising last week—four weeks out from Election Day. The graphic by CMAG’s Harley Ellenberger includes two types of information: 1) the numbers in the left-hand column represent the total number of broadcast TV ad occurrences—i.e., individual airings of ads—devoted to that message for the week, while 2) the pair of red and blue bubbles indicates the percentage of that total number of occurrences sponsored by each side. The graphic covers all broadcast TV advertising in Senate races from October 6-12.

We’ve arranged the 15 messages not by total spot count for the week, but by the size of the spot-count advantage one party held on that particular message during the week, from Republicans’ dominance of criticism of the Affordable Care Act to Democrats’ significant edge on social issues overall, prescription drugs and education.

Not surprisingly, the economy and healthcare are dominating the air war. More surprisingly for those who have dismissed the ACA as an “old” or “faded” issue, criticism of the healthcare law was a significant component of the GOP message mix last week. From October 6-12, the anti-Obamacare message was the fourth most-mentioned issue or issue position in ad occurrences, after healthcare overall (all mentions of the ACA, Medicare, and healthcare generally), jobs/unemployment, and the budget/government spending. Plan cancellations and rising premiums in certain states are giving Republicans more anti-Obamacare ammo.

While the GOP’s reliance on attacking Obamacare may be primarily to boost turnout, it’s worth noting given the looming start of open enrollment on November 15. CMAG also classifies ads as “pro-ACA,” and we have seen more such ads popping up lately, but their collective spot count for the week didn’t come close to the number required to make the top 15.

Among other results of note:

The near-parity on international affairs, CMAG’s tag for mentions of terrorism or fighting terrorism, as Republicans (56% of all spots for the week) stepped up their attacks on Democrats over ISIS but most targeted Democrats (44%) pushed back.

To the extent that immigration came up in ads last week, the mentions were almost entirely negative: 7,366 spots out of 7,913. This was likely driven by Republicans’ focus on border security (and their conflation of that issue with fighting terrorism).

Democrats’ edge on Social Security (55% of spots to Republicans’ 45%) is narrower than Republicans’ edge on Medicare (63% of spots to Democrats’ 37%), which may be due to an increase in GOP attacks on Democrats for allegedly supporting $700 billion in cuts to Medicare in conjunction with supporting the ACA.

Sub-topics on social issues such as abortion, access to contraception, and equal pay for women did not rank in the top 15 in terms of spot count for the week, but combined, they landed the social issues bucket there with a considerable Democratic advantage.

And when it came to education, specifically the cost of college, Democrats had the air largely to themselves.