“Duke Ad Watch”

Hillary Clinton Mirrors Ad

Bullies, vanishing parents and a candidate flexing for the camera

The Duke Ad Watch team chooses the best and worst commercials of the 2016 campaign

By Rebecca Iannucci – November 3, 2016 | Print this article

For the last three months, student researchers in the Reporters’ Lab have watched hundreds of campaign commercials as part of our Duke Ad Watch project.

The goal was to save time for fact-checkers. The students watched ads for the presidential, senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial races and identified claims journalists at PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and other organizations could check.

Students also wrote blog posts throughout the semester, analyzing different trends that cropped up again and again in campaign ads.

With Election Day fast approaching, Bill Adair, the director of the Reporters’ Lab, sat down with the Duke Ad Watch team to discuss what it’s been like to watch hundreds of campaign ads.

He spoke with student researchers Hank Tucker, Amanda Lewellyn, Julia Donheiser, Asa Royal and Sam Turken, along with project manager Rebecca Iannucci. Here is an edited transcript.

Bill: When you tell people, “My job is to watch campaign ads all day,” and they say, “Wow, what’s that like?” — what’s your response?

Asa: It’s fun! Some of the ads are well-made, some are corny and some are horribly misleading, but almost all of them are worth watching. Eventually, you can predict what you’ll see in an ad just by seeing who’s made it and who’s mentioned in it.

Rebecca: For me, it’s two things. On one hand, it’s actually helped me to be more informed, because I’ve found myself researching whether or not the claims in these ads are true or false. I feel like I’ll be walking into that voting booth on Nov. 8 with a pretty clear picture of who these candidates really are. But it also makes me sad to watch so many attack ads. I know there are so many people being influenced by these ads, for better or for worse, and they’re blindly believing false claims. And just watching these politicians attack each other for months, instead of focusing on why they’re good for the job or what difference they would make in office — it can be really disheartening.

Julia: It makes you a little crazy and very frustrated. I say crazy because campaign ads are the epitome of low production value. But the frustration comes from the claims that campaigns and PACs continuously make, and the way that candidates and their opponents are characterized in the process. The people making these ads are only concerned about whether their candidate — and quite frankly, their party — wins. It leads to a “gotcha” style of attack ads.

Bill: So, you’re seeing the same candidates using the same ads. But are you seeing the same candidates using the same lines?

Amanda: A lot of candidates use the same B-roll. You’ll see a kind of mix-and-match between advertising. They’ll use [Republican Chuck] Grassley [of Iowa] shaking hands with people outside of a small business in different ads. And Americans for Prosperity and J Street put together multiple ads [in different states] that were pretty much the same, just with a different candidate in the hole.

Rebecca: Yeah. They were identical. I haven’t seen a lot of candidates across different states saying the exact same lines, as if they were reading from a script that was just given to a bunch of different states.

Bill: Interesting.

Rebecca: I’ve just seen the same type of factual claims get said. But from state to state, I don’t see identical scripts being used.

Sam: Also, they all respond to each other now. Or at least, a lot of them do. There was one [series of ads] where you had this bicycle delivery guy. I forget who that was for, but then the opponent introduced another bicycle delivery guy in their ads saying, “That first guy’s wrong.”

Amanda: Katie McGinty.

Rebecca: Shady Katie McGinty! [Laughs]

Hank: And Ted Strickland’s response to [Rob] Portman [of Ohio]: “He criticized me for draining the Rainy Day Fund, but it was raining pretty hard!”

Rebecca: He admitted that!

Asa: I think that ads have gotten repetitive, but that’s probably what candidates want. If a message gets played once, people will forget it. If it’s played twice, attentive people will remember it. If it’s played 40 times, nobody is going to forget it.

Bill: Does seeing all these ads make you more cynical about politics?

Hank: [immediately] Yeah.

Bill: Why?

Hank: You’ve heard “race to the bottom” a lot in the presidential campaign, but I think that’s what all the campaigns this year are getting to be. I don’t think there’s any ad that is all positive about their candidate. They can be half-negative, and then they pivot to the positive. Or a lot of them are just all negative. But there’s always an attack. It’s not like they’re running on their positions and their values. They’re saying, “This person screwed everything up, so you should vote for me.”

Julia: It’s hard not to think that politicians treat campaigns and policy like a game when you’re constantly seeing them attack their opponents with falsehoods. The political climate is so bad right now that most of these political ads seem like they could be from a comedy show. And the voters that these ads are meant to target aren’t always going to go to PolitiFact or Factcheck.org. The campaigns know that, and they take advantage of it.

Rebecca: I have found I’m also very cynical about what on Earth gets done in Washington, after seeing all these different races. If you focus on [Democratic Senate candidate] Catherine Cortez Masto, she tried to tackle sex trafficking in Nevada. But then you look at the Senate race in another state, where a different candidate talks about sex trafficking, and they couldn’t get anything done, even if Catherine Cortez Masto made a little bit of progress. You look at how many people are running for so many different offices, and you think, “What’s the point of any of this?” They go into Washington and they’re up against such partisanship, they’re just pushing their own agenda — what on Earth is actually getting accomplished there? Despite how important my one vote is said to be, that’s not always how I feel. I feel like no matter what we do, nothing is going to get achieved, because of watching all these ads and seeing how everyone is so conflicted in what they want.

Bill: What’s the production quality of these ads? Are they good? [to Rebecca] Now, you’re the former TV writer. Do you feel like they’re well-produced?

Rebecca: [Laughs] No. I don’t feel that way.

Sam: Some of the graphics are kind of cool.

Rebecca: Some of the graphics are interesting. Those are very creatively done sometimes. The ones that make me cringe are the ones where the candidates themselves show up, and they do some cheesy little skit with their constituents, or with a friend, or their husband or wife. There was one recently with [Sen.] Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and he used his grown daughters and his wife. The women say to each other, “We didn’t want him to run for another term, but now we’re glad he’s doing it. You need help in there, honey?” And Ron Johnson is changing his grandson’s diaper in another room, and the grandson pees in his face. Then at the end, he comes in with the baby, and he dunks the diaper in the trash can, and they’re like, “Nice shot, Dad!” It’s so painful to watch. Those are the moments when production value is bad; it’s so cheesy. Why on Earth would you try to be relatable in this way when it makes you look very awkward?

Sam: The one with Kelly Ayotte playing baseball.

Amanda: Oh my God.

Sam: She’s like, “Oh, I smacked bills out of the park just like balls.”

Hank: Total pandering.

Amanda: With her Sox cap on.

Julia: The only ads I’ve seen with good production value either come straight from the campaign or are really, really weird.

Asa: As far as bad production value, I’d focus on a big bulk of ads that I just call “exceedingly mediocre.” Joe the Plumber/Doctor/Construction Worker appears on the screen, talks down on one candidate’s record, talks up another candidate’s record and then concludes the ad with a tagline. The only thing that can make an ad like that worse is if Joe never appears and you’re just forced to listen to a monotone narrator for the whole ad.

Amanda: Then there’s an ad for [Iowa Senate candidate] Patty Judge where you can tell it’s important, because she’s got the guy who voices Prairie Home Companion [Garrison Keillor] in there, and they’re challenging [Grassley] to a debate. But it’s such terrible quality. It’s tilted. It’s just an iPhone video. And you compare that to Trump or Clinton, who are never going to release something along those lines.

Bill: How are the presidential ads different? It used to be that campaigns would put out dozens and dozens of individual ads, and I don’t feel like we’ve seen that many different ads from the Trump and Clinton campaigns, have we?

Hank: There aren’t that many Hillary ads, but she knows which ones are working. We’ve seen [Trump] attacking the veterans, and one of Hillary’s ads shows veterans watching what Trump says about them. It’s also easier that they’re running against a very unusual candidate who might not be as sophisticated as a lot of presidential candidates. You can just keep doing the same things. He’s said a lot of stuff. It’s working.

Bill: What’s the best Trump ad?

Amanda: They just throw out words: “Power.” “America, great again.” That’s it.

Sam: There’s no policy. No policy.

Rebecca: The only ones that did have policy were the series of ads called “Two Americas.” One was about immigration, one was economy, one was veterans. And they all say, “In Hillary Clinton’s America, it’s more of the same… but worse.” [Bill laughs] “But in Donald Trump’s America…,” and it gets happy. But there’s no specific numbers. It doesn’t really say how he will go about doing anything. They’ll just say, “Everyone gets more affordable child care. Everyone gets more this or that.” And that’s it.

Bill: What’s the best ad?

Amanda: I got teary-eyed at one the other day. I don’t even remember what it was — [to Rebecca] — but I remember I told you about it.

Rebecca: The bully one. From Clinton.

Amanda: The bully one! She mixes in clips of Trump speaking and bullying people with bullies from movies. The guy from Back to the Future

Rebecca: A Christmas Story, Regina George from Mean Girls

Amanda: And then it flips to a young girl asking Clinton what she’s going to do about bullies in America. And then Clinton has a heartwarming response. It’s really cute.

Rebecca: I would say the series of ads that Clinton put out — like you were saying, Hank — with the kids watching the TVs, veterans watching the TVs. There was one specific ad where they actually interviewed one of those veterans and did a full minute-long ad with just him. He talked about how the horrors of war still stick with him, and he started crying and saying, “How dare Donald Trump say that he can relate to this.” I found all of those really emotionally stirring. It’s one thing to see the clips of Trump over and over, being such a jerk and saying all these things, but to see those people react and be so sad and scared — that’s what really gets me. And the “Mirrors” ad that Clinton put out, too. That was probably the most effective.

Sam: Yeah, the Hillary ads that just have Trump clips. It’s so easy to do, so easy to put together, and the message is just so clear. You really don’t need anything more complicated than that. It just reinforced everything, all the negative things he’s said.

Bill: What’s the worst ad? I’d be particularly interested at the state level — worst for production value, most annoying. What’s the worst one?

Rebecca: Oh my gosh. I have to think about this. I’ve seen so many bad ones.

Sam: That comic one with Hillary.

Bill: What was that one?

Sam: It was this weird comic thing. She was a cartoon. Everybody was a cartoon. Talking about Russia.

Rebecca: She went to go visit Putin and handed over uranium, and the whole thing was voiced by impersonators of Putin and Clinton. It was so weird! It was so weird.

Asa: I wish this weren’t so easy. Donald Trump’s attempt to appeal to the BJP Hindu vote in America. If the ad was supposed to make me cringe and laugh, I guess it worked. If it was supposed to appeal to my half-Indian identity and make me think better of Trump, I don’t know what to say.

Hank: There was one that was just goofy. [Christine Jones] was running for Congress, a Republican businesswoman. There was a white background where she was standing, and there was a crowd of old white guys around a microphone, and she says things like, “I’ve never taken funding from special interests. Can they say that?” and they all start chanting, “More, more, more!” Just weird.

Rebecca: That’s the vibe I got from so many of these cringey, I’m-embarrassed-for-you kind of ads. You laugh at them, and then you remember: These are people running for office. They are running to be in the Senate. They’re running to be in Congress. And — [laughs] — it’s just so stupid!

Amanda: It makes you take the race less seriously, and the position itself.

Hank: There’s another ad that weirded me out. It implied that parents of young children would be dying. [Everyone groans and laughs, recognizing the ad] It showed this picture of a mom in her bed with her young daughter, and then the mom vanishes. Fades into nothing. And then there’s a dad with his daughter, who’s wearing a wedding dress. And they’re standing together, but then the dad vanishes and it’s just the daughter alone. And then there’s a dad with his kid on a tricycle… but then the kid vanishes.

Rebecca: You think the dad’s gonna vanish, but then the kid has died!

Hank: And then it says something like, “Pollution creates so many premature deaths every year. Senator Ron Johnson voted against the clean energy something-or-other. Don’t vote for him.”

Bill: So if he gets re-elected, people are going to die.

Rebecca: Yep. That little 5-year-old.

Hank: A lot of times, you can tell who’s losing.

Sam: Yeah, who’s desperate.

Bill: How so?

Hank: They seem more desperate. It seems like they feel more of a need to defend themselves against attacks from the other candidate. Like in Ohio, Ted Strickland is losing to Rob Portman, and you can tell that [Strickland’s team] is kind of on their heels, having to defend themselves and make these extreme, radical claims against whoever. Same with [Russ] Feingold — he’s beating Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. And Feingold, a lot of his ads are more traditional, saying, “I did these things in the Senate.” The losers don’t seem as on-message. They’re just all over the place, ads trying to attack everything. The desperation — it’s not obvious in all the cases, but you can tell.

Sam: Yeah, like Michael Bennet in Colorado. He’s had an easy lead in Colorado.

Rebecca: Who’s he running against? [beat] Oh, Darryl Glenn.

Amanda: Darryl Glenn!

Rebecca: That’s the worst ad we’ve ever seen!

Sam: Is that the one with him working out?

Rebecca: Yes! He’s doing, like, P90X for three minutes!

Sam: Michael Bennet hasn’t attacked once. I’ve seen 10 ads for Michael Bennet, and not one of them has an attack in it.

Rebecca: Yeah, he has run a very positive race.

Amanda: Until Darryl Glenn released that ad, I don’t think we even knew who [Bennet’s] competition was.

Rebecca: We didn’t, yeah! We were like, “Is he running uncontested?” Because nothing bad was coming out about him, and he’s not saying anything bad about other people.

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Campaign Ad Voiceovers

Duke Ad Watch: Gender stereotypes play a role in commercial narrations

Campaign ads feature more male than female voiceovers and use gender to elicit different reactions

By Sam Turken – November 3, 2016 | Print this article

With Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee for president, and women a critical voting block in this election cycle, you might have expected to see more female-narrated political advertisements on TV. But no: Men are still controlling the airwaves.

A Reporters’ Lab analysis of 256 presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial campaign ads in the last two months found that political ads feature male narrators more frequently than female narrators.

And the use of male and female voiceovers often conforms to gender stereotypes. Campaigns seem to employ male voiceovers as a default option in both positive and negative ads about candidates’ policies and plans. Female narrations, however, are relegated to attack ads that rarely discuss strategy — which aligns with patriarchal beliefs that women are less knowledgeable about policy.

Our analysis reviewed ads that included voiceovers or testimonials from constituents. We didn’t count the ads that featured a candidate as a narrator or involved both male and female voice-overs.

Since September, 138 ads have used male voiceovers to either promote a politician or attack someone else. The male narrators discuss anything from a candidate’s policy achievements and goals to corruption scandals involving another politician. The voiceovers are usually low and strong, possibly to convey a politician’s might or to create an ominous tone in attack ads.

For example, take a look at the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s “Money Tree” ad. Aside from its creepy use of fairy tale elements to criticize Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), the ad employs a voiceover that is unusually deep and seems artificial.

The female voiceovers, by contrast, have appeared in 118 ads and mostly question other candidates’ character. While 29 male voiceovers were positive, just 12 female narrations promoted a specific politician.

The ads often feature hopeless, worried women talking about their personal experiences with a candidate and why voters should not support him or her. In an ad called “Fix This,” a teacher in North Carolina criticizes Gov. Pat McCrory for trying to cut education funding. Toward the end of the ad, the teacher seems desperate as she calls on someone “to fix this.”

Women’s narrations also rarely appear in ads about policies and other traditionally “masculine” topics like national security and foreign affairs. Rather, female voiceovers usually discuss “feminine” issues, such as abortion, child care and education. Campaigns likely believe that ads about such topics will be more credible and striking with female voiceovers.

The disparities in the use of male and female voiceovers are nothing new.

A study published in Political Communication by Patricia Strach, an associate professor of political science and public administration and policy at the University of Albany, examined 7,000 campaign ads during the 2010-2012 congressional elections. Strach and her team of researchers found that 63 percent of the voiceovers were male, 28 percent were female and nine percent used both genders.

Strach reviewed different variables that could have factored into campaigns’ decisions to use male narrations, and surveyed participants about which types of voiceovers were most influential. Although she concluded that female voiceovers are more credible in ads about feminine issues, Strach found no evidence that male voiceovers are overall more effective than female narrations.

“It seems it’s a default or a bias that campaign managers have or the availability of these voices and not something that’s strategic,” Strach told the Reporters’ Lab.

The study also determined that female voiceovers appear most often in negative ads. Strach said that could be because female voiceovers seem to soften the blow of attacks and minimize backlash.

“You can say really mean things, but it doesn’t come across as harsh when women are saying it,” Strach said.

Why campaigns use voiceovers in the way they do isn’t something we’re going to decipher with the election finally coming to an end. But it’s clear that even an election cycle as crazy as this one has not changed how campaigns use gender to promote and attack politicians.

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Duke Ad Watch: Gary Johnson bucks traditional use of actors in attack ads

Libertarian candidate uses “Dead Abe Lincoln” to rethink actors’ roles in campaign commercials

By Amanda Lewellyn – October 31, 2016 | Print this article

In August, the pro-Gary Johnson PAC Balanced Rebellion released an ad on Facebook and YouTube that clocked in at upwards of five minutes. The main character is “Dead Abe Lincoln,” played by a twenty-something kid dressed in a top hat and overcoat, with what looks like some dead animal’s hair glued on to his cheeks.

Lincoln walks viewers through both Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s flaws. In doing so, he goes out of his way to use non-traditional language that might appeal to millennials: Clinton is “a Monopoly player who’s using her get-out-of-jail-free card, then a rig-an-election card and make-millions-on-political-favors card.”

And Trump? He’s what would happen “if your racist uncle got drunk and ran for president, then the nation got drunk and said, ‘That guy should have nuclear bombs.’”

The pro-Johnson ad capitalizes on the unusually high number of dissatisfied voters in this election cycle, highlighting the pressure to choose between two unappealing candidates. Lincoln points out another option: Libertarian Johnson (or, as Lincoln later refers to him, “freakin’ Batman”).

Because Johnson has had little success swaying any of the major parties’ voters, he uses Lincoln to introduce the Balanced Rebellion. It’s a program that matches disillusioned Republicans with their disgruntled Democratic counterparts. The idea is that if both of them vote for Johnson, neither is “giving their vote” to the opposition’s candidate.

Using actors to play candidates is not uncommon. But the Balanced Rebellion’s use of this top hat-wearing, insult-slinging former president is not the norm. For starters, none of the commercials in the Duke Ad Watch database that contain “candidates” exceed 30 seconds — less than a tenth of the Johnson ad’s length. There are several more key differences, which I’ll illustrate using a few ads.

All the “candidate” ads attack at least one politician. But unlike the Johnson commercial, actors usually play the real-life candidate under fire. Using that technique, the producer has more leeway to criticize their opponent. Plus, the attacked politician can’t immediately respond or contradict any claims made.

In “Town Hall” from End Citizens United, we watch from behind Senator “Kelly Ayotte” (R-N.H.) as she fields questions from dissatisfied constituents. After each constituent raises a concern — about Medicare, big oil — special interest groups signal to her how to respond. As a result, the real Ayotte appears to be a puppet representing donors’ concerns and not her own district’s.

Perhaps because of the ads’ tendency to attack, we never see the actors’ faces. In Senate Majority PAC “Koch Call” commercial featuring Senator “Joe Heck” (R-NV), we barely even see that much — just the corner of Heck’s trademark rectangular glasses as he answers a call from the Koch brothers.

Instead, “candidate” ads shoot from over the actor’s shoulder, behind them or from too far a distance to make out their features. That’s a stark contrast to the five-plus minutes we spend staring into Dead Abe Lincoln’s dead blue eyes in the Balanced Rebellion spot.

In the Johnson ad, Lincoln is the focus. He explains the video’s message in full, often aided by headlines Donald Trumpand graphics (like this one of Trump as the Joker from “Batman”). However, actors usually take more of a backseat role: they’re props, not the ones making the commercial’s point.

Take “Hypocrite Hillary Leaves You Defenseless” from the N.R.A. In it, we follow “Clinton” as she exits a government SUV, walks past guards with big guns and boards a cushy private jet. The combination of a narrator, sound bites from the real Clinton and the dark tone of the video make the argument against Clinton’s “hypocritical” stance on guns.

It’s apparent that Johnson’s ad follows none of the common practices seen in other groups’ advertising. And it might not be an arbitrary difference: The “candidate” ads containing those trends come from organizations affiliated with the major parties. It looks like we can add advertising strategy to the list of things that make the Libertarian an outsider in this election.

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Duke Ad Watch: Candidates continue to look for musical edges over opponents

As the campaign season enters its last leg, ads attempt to subliminally sway voters with jingles both cute and cutting

By Asa Royal – October 25, 2016 | Print this article

Overused as it might be during the 2016 election, music in political ads is powerful and here to stay. The proper soundtrack can transform a dry 30-second commercial into a convincing emotional argument. In volatile races with millions of undecided voters, it’s just another tool campaigners are using to nudge voters to their side.

Used properly, ad music should set an overarching tone that attempts to sway a viewer’s opinion. Consider, for example, the music in the ads “Batting” — in favor of Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)— and “Senator Kelly Ayotte: At Bat for the Gun Lobby,” which is against her.

The first ad — pro-Ayotte — shows the candidate slugging baseballs with a smile on her face as she speaks about bravely fighting a political machine. Ayotte’s voice is accompanied by a cheery whistling tune which serves to build a positive image of her as a happy, graft-busting, personable politician.

The second ad — anti-Ayotte — shows a similar clip of her hitting baseballs, but a female voiceover speaks harshly about Ayotte’s repeated votes against the closure of a gun loophole. This time a dark melody plays in the background, producing a decidedly negative image of Ayotte. The lesson is clear: music helps define message.

A few political advertisements have musically distinguished themselves by using tonal shifts — effectively playing multiple jingles during one video. Shifting tones allows an advertisement to color opinions on one subject in one way, while coloring opinions on another subject in a clearly contrasting way.

“Work Hard,” an ad released in September by senatorial candidate Pat Toomey (R-P.A.) exemplifies the effects of tonal shifts. The ad begins with Toomey speaking about the middle class while an upbeat jingle casts a kind light on his words. After 10 seconds, the music suddenly changes to a mysterious, eerie dirge as Toomey’s opponent, Katie McGinty (D-P.A.), appears on the screen.

The progression is jarring; McGinty’s candidacy is made to look creepy and strange because of the quick musical change. That shock factor is what candidates want, said Benjamin Schoening, associate professor of music at the University of North Georgia, in an email interview. “Tonal shift is used to change audience mood… to reset [them] emotionally in[to] the correct frame of mind,” he added.

A second ad, “Leadership,” employs the tonal shift tactic more subtly with the same effect. The advertisement, which laments the supposed failure of Democratic foreign policy and the resulting rise of terrorism, begins with a monologue by former mayor Rudy Giuliani.

As Giuliani discusses the faults of President Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a cello-dominated orchestra plays a low-toned dark theme. As he slowly transitions to speaking about Republican nominee Donald Trump, the cello section fades out and is gradually replaced by a stronger, higher-pitched and more positively themed violin section. The two Democrats are ultimately associated with darkness and danger while Trump is associated with light and hope.

The musical deployment is slight but powerful. It may not win an election, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just one small instrument in the grand orchestra of a campaign.

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Donald Trump

Duke Ad Watch: Clinton, Republicans find common ground against Trump

The Democratic presidential candidate is crossing party lines for attacks against her opponent

By Hank Tucker – October 16, 2016 | Print this article

Hillary Clinton is getting support in her attack advertising from an unusual source: Republicans.

Widely respected and ordinary Republicans alike are crossing party lines to attack Trump, with several Clinton ads featuring prominent GOP politicians denouncing their nominee. Most of the conservative attacks against Trump are not on specific policy issues, but instead on a lack of trust in a potential Trump presidency with access to the nuclear codes.

Hillary for America’s “Confessions of a Republican” ad, which first aired in June, echoes an ad by the same name supporting Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson during the 1964 campaign. Clinton’s simple commercial shows William Bogert — an old Republican actor — in black and white, sitting in a chair and talking straight to the viewer, just like a younger Bogert did 52 years ago.

Bogert, who is never named in the ad, claims to come from a family of Republicans, but attempts to distinguish Trump from Republican presidential nominees of years past.

“Donald Trump — he’s a different kind of man,” Bogert says. “This man scares me.”

Bogert raises his voice when he says Trump wants to be “unpredictable” with nuclear weapons, calling the nominee a “threat to humanity.”

There is no background music and no text for the majority of the ad, starkly contrasting with many of Clinton’s campaign ads in this cycle. But its simplicity may connect with moderate voters in their living rooms.

In the event a relatable Republican like Bogert cannot convince his peers to vote against Trump, the Clinton campaign has also used clips of conservative politicians and advisors trying to convey a lack of trust in Trump.

“Unfit,” a Hillary for America ad released in August, features sound bites from Michael Hayden, the former CIA director under George W. Bush; Max Boot, a conservative foreign policy analyst; and Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post.

All three right-wing voices question Trump’s judgment and plant fear in viewers’ minds about what he would do if he had access to nuclear weapons, an issue Clinton wants to keep at the forefront of the campaign.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want a person of that temperament in control of the nuclear codes?’” Krauthammer says. “As of now, I’d have to say no.”

Hillary for America continued its bipartisan assault on Trump with a September ad titled “Agree,” using voices from such Republican politicians as Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake. As opposed to the bureaucrats that condemned Trump’s glib treatment of nuclear weapons, these are legislators suggesting to their conservative constituencies that Trump will not represent their views.

The ad does not have much substance beyond a condemnation of Trump, but its power is in the magnitude of elected Republicans that have spoken out against him.

Politicians crossing party lines for endorsements is not a new phenomenon. Former Democratic governor and senator Zell Miller gave a fiery speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention endorsing Bush. Four years later, former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman — Al Gore’s running mate in his 2000 presidential campaign — endorsed John McCain for president at the Republican National Convention.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater alienated many moderate Republicans with his aggressive stance on the Soviet Union and nuclear weapons, prompting the original “Confessions of a Republican” ad. Goldwater’s candidacy also led to the infamous “Daisy” ad that showed a little girl in a meadow, pulling petals from a flower before an atomic bomb went off.

But no candidate has ever launched as expansive an advertising campaign with help from the other side as Clinton has this year. Trump is one of the most divisive presidential candidates the U.S. has seen, and Clinton — who is not viewed very favorably in her own right — is keeping the spotlight on Trump with this strategy.

By using Republicans to her advantage, Clinton is taking the focus away from wedge issues that divide the population, like gun control and race relations, and instead highlighting bipartisan foreign policy questions. Even if rural voters in swing states do not support Clinton’s liberal policies, many probably would be uncomfortable with the U.S. dropping nuclear bombs to solve the world’s problems. Clinton is trying to convince these voters that this would be a real possibility in a Trump presidency.

And if they don’t believe Clinton, they are likely to believe the Republicans they have lived with, respected and voted for in the past.

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Duke Ad Watch: Statewide campaigns use slogans to embrace the basics

Senate and congressional campaigns aim to influence voters with punchy taglines

By Julia Donheiser – October 13, 2016 | Print this article

Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have spent millions of dollars on everything from Snapchat filters to personalized fact-checking sites. But state-level campaigns have relied on the basics, using trusty slogans that in many cases seem like a throwback to the simpler days of campaigning.

Some slogans pack the punch of an attack line while others use a more positive approach.

The Reporters’ Lab’s Duke Ad Watch team has spent the past two months working with the Political TV Ad Archive to identify factual claims in political ads. An analysis of the 263 ads with fact-checkable claims found that 36 commercials used slogans to either attack or promote a specific politician.

Only six ads used positive slogans, all of which were punchy sayings about a candidate being “right” for their state.

“Ted Strickland is Ohio’s heart and soul.”
“Pat Toomey is the clear choice for Pennsylvania.”
“Russ Feingold. Standing strong for Wisconsin.”

But a vast majority of slogans — 30 in total — were used to peg candidates as too risky, too liberal or too radical. Campaigns also attacked their competitors for putting Wall Street, profits or the Koch brothers over their constituents.

Below, find a breakdown of the types of slogans used in 2016 campaign commercials.

Taglines are punchy enough to catch viewers’ attention, but also vague enough that they can’t be fact-checked. After all, what does “too risky” mean? There’s no definitive test, which makes quippy slogans ideal for campaign ads hoping to leave viewers with a definitively negative or positive opinion of a candidate.

So, what are these slogans actually saying?

Many of the taglines we recorded appealed to trust, or lack thereof. Though many slogans didn’t directly use the word “trust,” they alluded to questionable motives and relationships with big money. Some examples include:

“Joe Heck puts Wall Street ahead of us.”
“Patrick Murphy. Fighting for special interests, not us.”
“Rob Portman. Can’t trust him to be for Ohio.”
“Hillary Clinton. Just can’t trust her.”

But the trust appeal is not new. A 1988 ad attacking Michael Dukakis finished with, “America can’t afford that risk.”

Similarly, an ad targeting John Kerry back in 2004 ended with “John Kerry cannot be trusted.” And then there’s the 2006 anti-Harold Ford ad claiming he was “just not right.”

Simply put, taglines are a tried and true method for attack ads and have been used since the early days of political advertising. Even as we find ourselves in one of the strangest election cycles, it is clear that the basics of political ads have not been thrown out the window just yet.

Candidates may change, but stale puns in political slogans are forever.

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Duke Ad Watch: Clinton campaign commercials rely on feeling, not fact

The Democratic candidate's recent ads make emotional appeals to voters instead of focusing on policy

By Amanda Lewellyn – October 5, 2016 | Print this article

Many pro-Hillary Clinton ads aren’t saying anything new about Donald Trump, or even making fact-based claims about his policies. They’re literally using Trump’s own words against him.

If you believe everything Trump said during the Sept. 26 presidential debate — and PolitiFact says you shouldn’t — Clinton has spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” on “hundreds of millions” of attack ads in an effort to push key demographics to the polls.

Her ads typically contain snippets from Trump’s speeches and interviews, in order to draw attention to the instances where he has incited violence or insulted women (or veterans, or immigrants, or people with disabilities…). And in the ads, the targets of his comments are usually watching, shaking their heads and expressing hurt and indignation in reaction to the soundbites.

In each spot, we watch individuals react as their demographic comes up to bat. In an ad called “Watching”, a woman gets ready for work when a 1994 ABC interview with Trump comes on the TV. “Putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing,” he says. “I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist…”

Seconds later, a Korean War veteran looks up from his seat at the bar to watch as Trump says at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit earlier this year, “[John McCain is] a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

In “Role Models”, unsupervised children watch while Trump makes claims on their TVs. Among other sound bites, the ad highlights the line, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” which was said during an Iowa campaign stop. What’s more, the children don’t seem fazed by the comments he’s making.

Some ads prove that his comments anger more than just their targets. In “Wall”, a diverse group of college-aged men and women glare into the camera as Trump is broadcast on a screen behind them. “When Mexico sends its people…they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…,” he says in the speech announcing his intent to run for president.

With less than 35 days left in the campaign, Clinton’s camp is working to capture female, minority and millennial voters. The ads discussed target people that fit the bill — working women, parents of young children, immigrants and college students — and personalize Clinton’s message: Trump won’t really help you.

The groups responsible for these ads — Hillary for America, Priorities USA Action and NextGen California — are trying to illustrate how a Trump presidency would only disrespect their experiences and their voices.

But the Clinton campaign is stepping up to this challenge in an unusual presidential election cycle, one in which rhetoric is everything and concrete policy is seemingly irrelevant. Instead of using fact-based research and policy plans to convince voters of their abilities, Trump and Clinton are relying heavily on how voters are feeling as opposed to the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

You can see this phenomenon in the Duke Ad Watch database of campaign commercials. Just one-third of pro-Trump ads have factual claims in them — and the same statistic is true of pro-Clinton ads. One-third! For the reader who doesn’t transcribe political ads for 10 hours a week, I’ll put that into perspective for you:

In Iowa, Patty Judge is challenging incumbent Chuck Grassley for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Two-thirds of the pro-Grassley and pro-Judge ads that have aired contain factual claims about the candidate or their opponent.

The stark difference in fact usage signals that the Iowans’ conversation is not focused on whether Grassley is brash or Judge is likable. It means they’re zeroing in on what each candidate has — or hasn’t — done for Iowans: whether they’ve created jobs, or fostered a wind energy economy, or enabled Congress’ inaction throughout Barack Obama’s presidency.

So what are Trump and Clinton talking about in their ads, if not the facts?

They’re exploring whether each candidate feels like a trustworthy choice for president. Whether they’re racist, sexist or just really earnest (“Does Trump really speak for you?” asks an ad called “Speak”). Whether each candidate has the compassion, worldview and energy necessary to understand communities’ — voters’ — daily challenges.

They’re working to convince you that they’ll be your relatable, down-to-earth champion through thick and thin.

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Donald Trump Ad

Duke Ad Watch: We view the campaign ads so fact-checkers don’t have to

Reporters' Lab students will watch the campaign ads this fall in an effort to assist fact-checkers nationwide

By Rebecca Iannucci – September 8, 2016 | Print this article

With the fall political campaign underway, students in the Duke Reporters’ Lab are involved in an unusual project to help the nation’s fact-checkers. The students spend hours every day watching campaign commercials.

The goal of the Duke Ad Watch is simple: We watch the ads so fact-checkers don’t have to.

The project is a partnership with the Political TV Ad Archive, which is compiling a database of campaign ads airing nationwide. Students in the Reporters’ Lab are watching each ad to find the most interesting, provocative and important claims that are worth fact-checking. The Lab then alerts fact-checkers every day with a list of claims that could be checked.

Reporters’ Lab students will also be writing occasional articles about the trends and themes they see in the campaign ads. Are candidates using the same grainy news footage in cookie-cutter ads? Are many campaigns using the same ominous narrator? Duke students will spot those trends because they’ll be seeing so many ads.

The Duke Ad Watch officially began in January, but the project became dormant during the summer months. Now that classes have resumed, students will be working with the campaign ads through Election Day, Nov. 8.

You can see a running list of the claims we find in our open database. And watch for articles about trends and themes here in the Reporters’ Lab blog. For more information, contact Rebecca Iannucci at rebecca.iannucci@duke.edu.

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