A new study from Wesleyan University's Media Project notes that the 2016 presidential race featured "one candidate who almost ignored discussions of policy." Can you guess which candidate that was?
I will admit, after months of Trump's "Lyin' Ted," "Little Marco" and "Crooked Hillary," I wasn't expecting Hillary Clinton to be the answer to that one. But by the measure of this paper, it wasn't even close. Here's the chart they use to illustrate that "Clinton's message was devoid of discussions of policy in a way not seen in the previous four presidential contests."
This is perhaps easier to understand when you recognize that it's about the advertising she ran. And thinking back, it sounds about right. Most of her ads were either attempts to humanize her or exploit Trump's many egregious comments.
The only Clinton ad I actually saw on television (as opposed to online) during the campaign was the one here, during the World Series — an attempt to exploit Trump's, er, personality. (I wasn't happy, by the way, because my children actually were watching with me, and I'd mostly protected them from last year's garbage.)
The Wesleyan paper, published in The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics, also blames Clinton's losses in the "blue wall" states of Michigan and Wisconsin on her failure to air television ads until the very end. Yet overall, Clinton dominated the airwaves and national cable advertising nearly everywhere, with Utah, the D.C., market and most of Wisconsin being the only noteworthy exceptions.
Overall, the study says, more than $2.8 billion was spent on election ads at all levels in 2016, with a bit less than one-third of that ($845 million) spent on the presidential race alone. There were fewer presidential ads overall than in any election since 2000, even including all outside group spending. That's mostly because Trump spent nearly two-thirds less on advertising than Clinton.
The study is available for open access until next month — it's worth having a look.