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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, October 28, 2014

An uptick in education, the sudden emergence of financial reform, and drop-offs on prescription drugs and terrorism—the latter from the list entirely—represent the moves in what otherwise has been a notably stable ranking of the top 15 most-mentioned issues in Senate broadcast TV ad occurrences from three weeks before Election Day to two weeks out.

As usual, this 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 20-26. The previous week’s graphic is included below it for comparison purposes.

Two Weeks Out: Oct. 20-26

Three Weeks Out: Oct. 13-19

We’ve arranged the 15 issues and issue positions 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 the GOP shutout on criticism of the Affordable Care Act to Democrats’ eclipse of Republicans on prescription drugs and financial reform.

For this most recent week, the top seven issues and issue positions remained the same as in the previous week: healthcare at #1 (all mentions, including of “Obamacare,” Medicare, women’s health and other healthcare references), jobs/unemployment at #2, taxes at #3 (with a persisting, wide Democratic advantage), energy/environment at #4, anti-Obamacare at #5, Medicare at #6, and budget/government spending at #7. On most of these issues, the partisan advantage also remained stable, with the exception of Republicans narrowing their gap with Democrats by five points on sponsorship of TV spots about jobs.

It’s among the bottom half of the list where the two sides are tinkering with their messaging, starting with a big move by education from #14 three weeks out to #8 last week, an increase seemingly fueled by a greater Republican embrace of the issue. From October 13-19, Republicans sponsored just 13% of all spots referencing education to Democrats’ 87%. Last week, they accounted for 25% of the spots to Democrats’ 75%.

Social issues overall dropped a notch in the rankings from #8 to #9, with Republicans accounting for just 12% of all spots mentioning social issues, down from 22% the previous week.

Prescription drugs dropped from #11 to #15. Last week, all RX-related spots were sponsored by Democrats, compared to the GOP’s sponsorship of 17% of such spots the week before. Meanwhile, references to veterans’ care climbed two notches from #15 to #13 with Republicans almost completely closing a previously wide gap with Democrats.

But the other big move of the week, beyond the six-slot rise of education, is the emergence of financial reform—references to Wall Street banks and the financial crisis—at #14, marking the first entry of a new issue to the ranks of the top 15 in our month-long tracking. Not shockingly, all financial reform-related spots have been sponsored by Democrats, who often mention it in the context of Republicans allegedly wanting to privatize Social Security. Somewhat shockingly, the issue that dropped off the list to make way for financial reform was terrorism (international affairs). We continue to see Republican-sponsored ads mentioning terrorism or ISIS specifically, including new ads, but at least for this most recent week, they didn’t amount to enough to make it a top-15 issue.

One last but important housekeeping note: while spots are a more apples-to-apples way of looking at TV advertising across media markets of varying expense, they’re not a perfect metric, either. One 30-second spot during last night’s NFL game between Washington and Dallas could reach more voters than 20 spots aired during other Monday-night programming.