What Iowa Watched

Every presidential campaign ad the Hawkeye State has seen leading up to caucuses, charted.

A screenshot from a TV ad by Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) presidential campaign airing in Iowa.
Marco Rubio for President
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Zach C. Cohen and Libby Isenstein
Jan. 30, 2016, 11:32 p.m.

As Iow­ans par­ti­cip­ate in pre­cinct caucuses Monday, they’ll do so after months of can­did­ates hold­ing cam­paign events, knock­ing on their doors, and eat­ing their food.

But when they turned on their TVs in re­cent weeks, first-in-the-na­tion caucus-go­ers were also bom­barded by cam­paign and su­per PAC ads, total­ing more than 350 hours in just the last two months, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tion­al Journ­al ana­lys­is of data provided by the Polit­ic­al TV Ad Archive, a pro­ject sponsored by the Knight Found­a­tion.

The ana­lys­is does not ad­dress ads aired on the fi­nal week­end, when some can­did­ates re­leased clos­ing ar­gu­ments. That in­cludes the most re­cent in­fomer­cial launched by Marco Ru­bio’s cam­paign, which con­tained a 30-minute tele­vised town­hall.

Ru­bio cap­tured the most air­time re­cently of any of his com­pet­it­ors, nearly doub­ling the TV cam­paign waged by fel­low Sen. Ted Cruz, whose cam­paign and af­fil­i­ated su­per PACs cre­ated the greatest num­ber of unique ads for the state.

Mean­while, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Bernie Sanders have re­l­at­ive par­ity in TV time in the weeks lead­ing up to their first of­fi­cial con­test, where Clin­ton nom­in­ally led Sanders by 3 points in the latest Des Moines Re­gister/Bloomberg poll re­leased Sat­urday.

When it comes to gar­ner­ing air­time, all spots are not cre­ated equal; cer­tain ads wind up hav­ing a much stronger air­waves pres­ence than oth­ers. Lead­ing up to Monday, the most fre­quently aired spot in Iowa came from Sanders. Com­bined, Sanders’s ads, of­ten com­posed of dir­ect-to-cam­era ap­peals on do­mest­ic policy, ac­count for nearly a quarter of the state’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign ads.

Front-run­ner Don­ald Trump’s first ad is the second most com­monly played spot in the state in re­cent weeks, and tops among Re­pub­lic­an ads. The “best of” playl­ist in­vokes his pro­pos­als to stem il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion and fight IS­IS. Since Dec. 1, that ad has hit Iowa more than 1,200 times. 

In ad­di­tion to dom­in­at­ing the air­waves in re­cent weeks, Ru­bio’s camp also aired the third most played TV ad, in which he ad­dresses Amer­ic­an ex­cep­tion­al­ism.

A Clin­ton ad present­ing the former sec­ret­ary of State’s plan to min­im­ize the “wage gap” was the fourth most watched.

The most aired neg­at­ive ad be­longs to Right to Rise USA, a su­per PAC sup­port­ing Jeb Bush. The ad por­trays fel­low Flor­idi­an Ru­bio as a flip-flop­per and friend of New York Sen. Chuck Schu­mer. Ru­bio has so far been one the most tar­geted can­did­ates on TV, second only to Trump.

The TV ad war has also sim­u­lated the on­go­ing battle in the Re­pub­lic­an primary. While Cruz has taken on the role of Trump’s chief ant­ag­on­ist, Bush has con­trib­uted the ma­jor­ity of the at­tack ads against Ru­bio in a fight for es­tab­lish­ment sup­port.

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