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Cumulative Exposure to Political Campaign Ads about Crime Increases Crime Worry among Republicans

In a recently published study in The International Journal of Press/Politics, our team of researchers, led by Jiawei Liu, examined the content of political campaign ads about crime during the 2016 U.S. election cycle, and the consequences of cumulative exposure to political campaign ads about crime on crime worry.

Trained coders were instructed to identify political campaign ads that mentioned crime using Kantar/CMAG data that included information about 3,767,477 campaign ad airings in the 2015-16 U.S. election cycle. They also coded for the specific crime problems and policy solutions mentioned in the ads. We then matched Kantar/CMAG data about campaign ad airings to Simmons National Consumer Survey (NCS) data about television viewing patterns of 26,703 respondents in the U.S. to estimate the effects of exposure to political campaign ads about crime on crime worry.

We found that political campaign ads were more likely to mention specific and severe crime problems and punitive measures (e.g., incarceration/sentencing) than efforts to prevent crime before it occurs (i.e., preventive policies). As a result, cumulative exposure to political campaign ads about crime was associated with higher levels of crime worry after controlling for demographics, overall TV viewing, and local crime rates. Further analysis stratified by respondents’ political party affiliation showed that exposure to crime-related political campaign ads increased crime worry among Republicans, but not Democrats.

This study, together with another paper published in Social Science & Medicine about the associations between exposure to political campaign ads and psychological distress, reflects the efforts of our research team to understand the effects of political campaign ads on people’s beliefs about social issues and their mental health.

This study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant no. 73619). 

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