How Campaign Ads Stimulate Political Interest

68 Pages Posted: 30 Dec 2019 Last revised: 20 Jan 2021

See all articles by Nathan Canen

Nathan Canen

University of Houston

Gregory Martin

Stanford University

Date Written: January 18, 2021


We empirically investigate two key dynamic features of advertising competition in elections using a new dataset of very high-frequency, household-level television viewing matched to campaign advertising exposures. The resulting dataset comprises more than 100,000 ad airings. First, we show that exposure to campaign advertising increases households' consumption of news programming by 3-4 minutes on average over the next 24 hours. Our method compares households that were viewing a program at the instant a political ad appeared to other viewers in the same market who watched the same show but tuned out just before, or tuned in just after, the ad was aired. Hence, in contrast to many existing models, advertising indirectly influences voters' information environment by changing voters' decisions to become informed about the campaign. Second, we show that these effects decline over the campaign: the effect of political ads on news consumption is 30 percent lower close to election day than two months out, while the rate of tune-out of political ads increases towards election day. Together, these dynamic forces help to rationalize the observation that candidates deploy the bulk of their advertising budgets well in advance of election day.

Keywords: campaign advertising, electoral competition, dynamic effects

JEL Classification: D72, D83, M37

Suggested Citation

Canen, Nathan and Martin, Gregory, How Campaign Ads Stimulate Political Interest (January 18, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Nathan Canen

University of Houston ( email )

4800 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204
United States

Gregory Martin (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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