After receiving citations in a variety of national media outlets, the Wesleyan Media Project hosted a Post-Election Wrap-Up and Public Forum this past Friday, discussing the Project’s findings in this year’s election and their implications for 2012. About 50 students gathered to listen to talks by Professor of Government Elvin Lim and Wesleyan Media Project Co-Directors Michael Franz, Professor of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College, and Travis Ridout, Professor of Political Science at Washington State University.
“The Public Forum was our opportunity to discuss the 2010 election and The Wesleyan Media Project’s work with Wesleyan and the broader community,” wrote Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, who leads the Project at Wesleyan, in an e-mail to The Argus. “We were fortunate to have prominent academics and journalists from regional and national outlets in attendance, and are very grateful to the Knight Foundation for making the event possible.”
The talk began with an overview by Ridout of advertising trends during this year’s midterm elections.
“One trend [the project found] was just how the overall volume of advertising has increased in 2010, with much more advertising in House and Senate races than in 2008,” wrote Ridout in an e-mail to The Argus. “Another trend was how negative the races were—over half of the ads that aired after September 1 were attacks on opponents, which is a higher percentage of negativity than in any other year since we started tracking all of this in 1998. Finally, this was an election about jobs. Over a third of ads (whether sponsored by Democrats or Republicans) mentioned jobs/employment as an issue.”
The Wesleyan Media Project began to track state and federal political advertisements once it was established earlier this year. At the forum, however, presenters discussed various other elements impacting this year’s elections.
“Interest groups were major players in this past election, but not at rates that were particularly high or possibly troubling,” Franz wrote. “For example, groups sponsored 12 percent of all ads in House races and 15 percent of Senate ads in 2010. That means that 88 percent and 85 percent of House and Senate ads, respectively, were sponsored by candidates and parties.”
In addition to discussing interest groups, Franz’s talk also touched on the impact of the recent Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not allow for the limitation of corporate funding in political broadcasts.
Lim, who discussed implications for 2012, also touched upon the case.
“[One of my points] pertained to whether or not Citizens United may well make the debate between candidates less negative, because it opens up the possibility that corporations can do all the dirty work,” Lim said. “The irony of the president’s rejection of the Court’s decision may well be that he could be inviting more negativity between candidates.”
The Wesleyan Media Project publishes its information and analyses to the public and has received extensive coverage from media sources such as Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, ABC News, and various other regional newspapers and blogs. According to its co-directors, the Project may look to extend its research.
“We hope to get funding for the project in 2012 and follow the ads throughout the presidential primary season, most importantly on the GOP side, where there will be a lot of ads in mid and late 2011 running up to the Iowa Caucus and [New Hampshire] primary,” Franz wrote. “I for one am excited about the mere possibility of tracking Sarah Palin’s ads, should she run.”
The Project will also be looking into the possibility of analyzing Internet advertising, news media coverage of advertising, and other non-campaign related issues.
According to Fowler, feedback about the Project’s work has been very positive so far.
“The faculty, staff and students who have talked to me about the Project have been very positive about our work, and we are appreciative of the University’s ongoing support,” she wrote.
This support was made clear during Friday’s event, which all speakers agreed saw a sizeable turnout.
“I thought it was an excellent event with a great turnout,” Ridout wrote. “There must have been 50 people in the room, and the audience had a lot of well-informed, interesting questions for us. I was very pleased.”