In midterm TV ads, Democrats focus on abortion, Republicans on crime: NPR

Republicans increased their spending on crime ads while Democrats increased their spending on abortion rights ads ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

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Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

Republicans increased their spending on crime ads while Democrats increased their spending on abortion rights ads ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

With a month to go until the midterm elections, ad spend tells the story of the messages candidates and their supporters believe will win over voters.

For Democrats, there has been a significant increase in spending on abortion-related ads since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. And in many races, Republicans have amplified their ads accusing Democrats of being soft on crime.

According to AdImpact, a company that tracks ads, Democrats spent more than $73 million on abortion-related television ads in September, nationwide. That’s about a third of all Democrats’ TV ad spend.

One such ad from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) takes aim at Congressman Steve Chabot, the incumbent Republican from Ohio’s 1st congressional district. He accuses Chabot of being “obsessed with banning abortion”.

About 30% of Democratic TV ad spending in September was on abortion-related messaging, accusing Republicans of being too extreme — like this one targeting GOP Congressman Steve Chabot.


Earlier this year, Democrats spent virtually nothing on abortion-related messaging. Then came the Supreme Court decision and a flood of restrictive new laws. Vriti Jain, who does strategic messaging at the DCCC, said abortion is proving to be a hugely galvanizing issue.

“It’s really powerful,” Jain said. “It touches people very personally. And that’s part of why you see it popping up on the airwaves across the country.”

Jain said it’s not just the polls or new voter registration numbers that have Democrats convinced. She pointed to a special election in August in upstate New York, where Democratic candidate Pat Ryan addressed abortion as a freedom issue in his campaign. He won, surpassing President Biden’s 2020 voting margin in the district.

Abortion is a big factor in gubernatorial race ads

Longtime Republican agent Sarah Longwell has been hanging out with swing voters this cycle for her podcast “The Focus Group.” She always starts by asking what worries voters.

“The economy comes first every time,” she said. “Crime comes back often.” Abortion comes up less often, but Longwell said this issue is very important when voters start talking about candidates they won’t vote for.

The voters Longwell spoke to are acutely aware of positions on abortion when it comes to gubernatorial races, as they have more influence than ever over abortion access in their states.

Republicans say they think voters care about crime and the economy

Dan Conston is chairman of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican super PAC backed by Leader Kevin McCarthy. He said the Supreme Court’s decision complicated what might otherwise have been a Republican “wave” election, given Biden’s relatively low popularity, voter concerns about inflation and the economy, and the historical patterns.

For Democrats, abortion “is the only message they have,” Conston said.

While voters in swing districts tend to support abortion rights, Conston said Republicans are “squarely focused on the issues that we believe are of most concern to the electorate — economic concerns, of which there are has an infinite number today, and concerns about public safety.

Cue disturbing music. “2020: Cincinnati murder at record high,” reads an ad from the Conston group, taking aim at Democratic challenger Greg Landsman, a Cincinnati city councilman. “Greg Landsman’s answer: defund the police.”

This ad from superPAC allied with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is part of a trend of GOP ads accusing Democratic candidates of being soft on crime.


It’s part of a trend in Republican messaging as the midterms approach. According to an NPR analysis of AdImpact data, Republicans spent nearly $40 million on crime-related posts in September, more than tripling the number of GOP ads on the issue aired from the previous month.

Democrats are also running ads touting increased funding for police

While Republicans don’t directly respond to abortion-related attack messages from Democrats, Democratic candidates have mounted a crime defense.

In Ohio, Landman has an ad with men and women in uniform speaking directly to the camera to push back against a claim that he wants to cut funding for the police, citing increased funding for law enforcement. order.

Democrats have made a concerted effort to respond to Republican attacks on crime by promoting their support for law enforcement, like this ad from Democratic candidate Greg Landsman.


It was a lesson learned from 2020, when Republican ads accusing Democrats of wanting to defund the police proved effective, cutting off the Democratic majority in the House. In a memo obtained by NPR and sent in March to applicants in competitive districts, the DCCC encouraged applicants to seek law enforcement endorsements.

“It is critical that candidates head into their election with at least one serving or retired member of law enforcement who can testify and speak to their performance on issues of crime and public safety,” the March memo reads. . “Given the time and resources this will require, including vetting the validator, preparing them for potential media attention, and scripting and shooting a commercial, now is a good time to get the commitments. validators.”

The memo also implored all contestants in competitive races to have a ready response to attacks portraying them as soft on crime or ready to defund the police.

“One of the things we found [in 2020] is that the attack on crime, the attack on funding, often went unanswered, and that was something we had to address head-on,” said DCCC’s Jain.

Crime is central issue in advertising in Wisconsin Senate race

Conston said Republican campaigns and outside groups don’t use crime-related messaging in all races — only those where he’s most likely to stay, where Democratic candidates or incumbents have voiced support for protesters, or talked about defunding or reprogramming law enforcement funds.

For Republicans, messages about rising crime play on emotions like fear and anger to try to get people to vote — a notable strategy in a key Senate race in Wisconsin, where last year, a man out on bail allegedly drove his vehicle in a parade.

In that state, 70% of Republican digital ad spending for the Senate race is crime-focused, while less than 15% is economic-focused, said Guy Cecil, president of Priorities USA, a Democratic outdoor group. which spends millions trying to mobilize voters, and also tracks both parties’ online ad spend.

“When you want to know how candidates think they can win, you look at where they spend their money,” Cecil said.

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