Wesleyan Media Project Launched, Will Analyze Political Ads

Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government, director, Wesleyan Media Project.

Wesleyan University is launching the Wesleyan Media Project, a non-partisan initiative designed to perform comprehensive tracking and analysis of federal and state political advertisements by candidates, parties and special interest groups. The project launches at the onset of a political election season poised to break advertising records.

Throughout the course of the 2010 election cycle, the Wesleyan Media Project will provide real-time, public information on the content and targeting of advertising in federal election campaigns across the country. In light of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, the Project will also provide systematic evidence on the extent of corporate and union spending. It will include details on which entities are doing the spending and which candidates are benefiting from these investments.

The data will include precise information, including the date, time, market, station and program on which each ad aired, allowing for an accurate estimate of its cost at the market level. In addition, the data will include a full video file of each ad, which the Wesleyan Media Project will further analyze, comparing advertising volume and spending this year to past cycles prior to the Citizens United decision.

Although the focus will be on federal races, the Wesleyan Media Project will also be tracking and analyzing gubernatorial and state races. The first of the Project’s fall releases is scheduled for Sept. 27, 2010.

The project succeeds the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which disbanded in 2009. It is housed in Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center, part of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. It is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, and her collaborators Michael M. Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College and Travis N. Ridout, associate professor of political science at Washington State University.

The Wesleyan Media Project is supported by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Sunlight Foundation, Wesleyan University, and its partner institutions Bowdoin College and Washington State University. Data analyzed will be provided by Kantar Media/CMAG.

“We are extremely grateful for the support of Knight Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation and look forward to working with Kantar Media/CMAG in providing the only public, comprehensive information on the content, sponsor, targeting and spending of broadcast advertising,” says Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University and director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Much has been made of recent changes in the campaign finance landscape with a particular eye on political advertising, and we are proud to be able to provide systematic evidence about who is attempting to influence elections, what they are saying and where.”

“By providing real-time information on who is trying to influence the November elections, the Project will provide journalists, voters and policymakers with valuable information about the candidates and the interests behind them,” said John Bracken, director of digital media for Knight Foundation.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change.

The Sunlight Foundation
is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.