Third-party "hatchet" ads: An exploratory content study comparing third-party and candidate spots from the 2004 presidential election

Philip Dalton, Charlton McIlwain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling lifted several key rules limiting electioneering communication. These changes are predicted to have significant effects on political campaigns. Namely, the ruling allows third-party sponsored electioneering up until Election Day. Because of the widespread presence of third-party issue advertising in 2004 presidential race, that election offers researchers one of the first opportunities to compare the content of third-party spots with candidate sponsored spots. This study examined the differences between third-party and candidatesponsored spots, to look at differences in areas of "magic word" inclusion (e.g., "vote for...," "vote against..."), negativity, and overall message consistency. Our findings show that few candidates use magic words, third-party spots were significantly more negative, addressed more issues than candidate spots, and made fewer explicit references to issues. Based on our results, we recommend future research on the effects of ad negativity, sponsor salience, and third-party and candidate message consistency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-151
Number of pages23
JournalAtlantic Journal of Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication

Cite this