Gun-related deaths are on the rise in the United States, and following recent mass shootings, gun policy has emerged as an issue in the 2020 election cycle.
In the February 2020 issue of Health Affairs, co-authors Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government and director of the Wesleyan Media Project; Laura Baum, project manager in the Government Department; and alumna Sarah Gollust ’01 explain how political advertising is an increasingly important tool for candidates seeking office to use to communicate their policy priorities. Over $6 billion was spent on political ads in the 2016 election cycle, and spending in the 2020 cycle is expected to be even higher.
Their paper, titled “Guns In Political Advertising Over Four US Election Cycles, 2012–18″ suggests that tracking gun-related political advertising over time can offer critical insights into how candidates view the salience of gun policy in the context of the 2020 election and beyond.
The co-authors analyzed the coverage of guns in over 14 million candidate-related television ad airings for presidential, congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative races over four election cycles: 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
According to their paper:
The share of candidate-related ad airings that referred to guns increased from 1 percent in the 2012 cycle to over 8 percent in the 2018 cycle. Pro–gun rights content dominated but dropped from 86 percent of airings mentioning guns in the 2012 cycle to 45 percent in the 2018 cycle. Advertising in favor of gun regulation and against the National Rifle Association increased over time. These shifts offer insights into how gun issues are being framed in the 2020 election cycle.
Research for this study was supported by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, the Smart Family Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.