Travis N. Ridout





Methods Symposium

WSU Political Science


My broad areas of research interest include political communication, voting, elections and campaigns, political participation, presidential nominations and survey methodology.

Current topics I'm working on include:

the use and development of issue frames in campaign advertising

• the strategic use of gender in political advertising

interest group issue agendas in campaign advertising

• a cross-national study of campaign attack behavior

• the impact of exposure to emotional appeals on citizens' attitudes and behavior

• the potential of YouTube to democratize elections

I am also involved in the department's Research and Methods Symposium

Here is my Google Scholar profile.


The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising. 2011. With Michael M. Franz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising offers a comprehensive overview of political advertisements and their changing role in the Internet age. We examine how these ads function in various kinds of campaigns and how voters are influenced by them.

We study where ads are placed, asserting that television advertising will still be relevant despite the growth of advertising on the Internet. We also explore the recent phenomenon of outrageous ads that "go viral" on the web-which often leads to their replaying as television news stories, generating additional attention.

The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising features the first analysis of the impact on voters of media coverage of political advertising and shows that televised political advertising continues to have widespread influence on the choices that voters make at the ballot box.

Campaign Advertising and American Democracy. 2007. With Michael M. Franz, Paul Freedman and Kenneth M. Goldstein. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

It has been estimated that more than three million political ads were televised leading up to the elections of 2004. More than $800,000,000 was spent on TV ads in the race for the White House alone and Presidential candidates, along with their party and interest group allies, broadcast over a million ads-more than twice the number aired before the 2000 elections. What were the consequences of this barrage of advertising? Were viewers turned off by political advertising to the extent that it dissuaded them from voting, as some critics suggest? Did they feel more connected to political issues and the political system or were they alienated? These are the questions this book answers, based on a unique, robust, and extensive database dedicated to political advertising.

Confronting prevailing opinion, we find that political ads may actually educate, engage, and mobilize American voters. Only in the rarest of circumstances do they have negative impacts.

Journal Articles

Separation by Television Program: Understanding the Targeting of Political Advertising in Presidential Elections. With Michael M. Franz, Kenneth M. Goldstein and William J. Feltus. Forthcoming. Political Communication.

Although conventional wisdom suggests that imbalanced message flows are relatively rare in presidential campaigns, this view relies on the assumption that competing campaigns allocate their advertising similarly. In this research, we show that this assumption is false. We combine ad tracking data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project with a unique collection of survey data on the audience for various program genres. Examining advertising in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 U.S. presidential races, we find that the Republican and Democratic candidates distributed their advertising differently across different program genres, reaching different types of voters. A form of microtargeting has increasingly entered into the realm of political advertising buys. We find that who sees certain political ads is more non-random than scholars had previously thought, and we find that unbalanced message flows (a precondition for ad persuasion) and more prevalent than conventional wisdom has suggested.

Explaining Perceptions of Advertising Tone. With Erika Franklin Fowler. 2012. Political Research Quarterly.

We investigate whether and by what route the news media and the tone of actual ads aired during a political campaign influence people’s perceptions of campaign ad tone. Using data on the content of political advertising, local television news coverage and local newspaper coverage in nine races in five Midwestern states in 2006, we discover that perceptions of ad tone respond to both exposure to advertising and exposure to local news media. Both positive and negative advertising drive tone perceptions, and the impact of news coverage of advertising depends not on the volume of ad coverage or mentions of tone, but on whether that coverage is framed strategically or not.

It’s My Campaign I’ll Cry if I Want to:  How and When Campaigns Use Emotional Appeals. 2011. Political Psychology.

Recent research in the area of campaign advertising suggests that emotional appeals can influence political attitudes, electoral choices and decision-making processes.  Yet is there any evidence that candidates use emotional appeals strategically during campaigns?  Is there a pattern to their use?  For instance, are fear appeals used primarily late in the campaign by trailing candidates in order to get voters to rethink their choices?  And are enthusiasm appeals used more commonly early on in order to shore up a candidate’s base?   We use affective intelligence theory—and supplement it with the idea of a voter backlash—to generate expectations about when candidates use certain emotional appeals (namely, anger, fear, enthusiasm and pride) and which types of candidates are most likely to do so.  We then test these ideas using campaign advertising data from several U.S. Senate races from 2004.  Our research thus provides a link between research on campaign decision-making—here the decision to “go emotional”—and research focusing on the effects of emotional appeals on voters.

Advertising Trends in 2010. With Erika Franklin Fowler. 2010. The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics.

Political advertising offers an important window on American campaigns and elections. We analyze a comprehensive database of political ads aired during the 2010 midterms to shed light on campaign strategies in this history-making election. We find that with the increase in competitive races in 2010, the volume of advertising rose too, as did its negativity. Moreover, we track the issues mentioned by each party, finding that while the parties agreed that employment was the top issue, there was also much divergence in issue priorities, with Republicans taking up some unlikely themes such as health care and “change.” The high volume of advertising in 2010 suggests a greater potential for voter learning, but the high levels of ad negativity could have had both positive and negative consequences on the electorate.

Candidate Strategies in the Presidential Nomination Campaign. With Jenny L. Holland. 2010. Presidential Studies Quarterly.

This paper examines the situations under which candidates in multicandidate races go on the attack (both intra-party and inter-party), paying special attention to the timing of the attacks, whether the attacker and attacked is a frontrunner or trailing and candidate ideology. Using ad tracking data from the 2004 and 2008 U.S. presidential nomination campaigns and detailed polling data from each state, we find that timing is an important consideration in the launching of an attack and that candidate ideology also determines who gets attacked. Finally, while candidate standing and candidate resources have little influence on intra-party attack behavior, both are important predictors of attacks across party lines.

Political Advertising and Persuasion in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections. With Michael M. Franz. 2010. American Politics Research.

The 2008 presidential election was historic in many respects. The campaign included the first African-American major-party candidate, and neither candidate was an incumbent president or vice president. In addition, one candidate took public funding and the other candidate did not. This latter disparity resulted in an imbalance of resources across the two campaigns, especially in the purchase of political advertising. But did that imbalance matter for who won? Did advertising move voters, and if so, by how much? This paper examines patterns of presidential ad buys in 2008 and compares them to presidential ad buys in 2004. It also examines the impact of advertising on county-level vote returns in both years. The results demonstrate some important differences in advertising patterns across years, especially in terms of ad sponsorship and market-level advertising advantages. We also find significant and strong advertising persuasion effects in 2008.

Following the Rules? Candidate Strategy in Presidential Primaries. With Brandon Rottinghaus and Nathan Hosey. 2009. Social Science Quarterly.

The competitiveness of the 2008 presidential primaries on both the Republican and Democratic parties has prompted a reconsideration of the role of delegate selection rules in influencing the strategic behavior of presidential candidates. Using advertising and candidate state visit data from the 2004 and 2008 presidential nominating campaigns, we reexamine the strategies presidential candidates use when competing for the nomination of their party. We find that, to a large extent, the rules of the game help predict where candidates allocate their political advertising and campaign stops; candidates consider whether a contest is a primary or caucus, they pay attention to how many delegates are at stake, and they consider whether a state's delegate allocation method is largely proportional or winner-take-all. Yet we also find some differences in how the rules influence frontrunners and long-shots candidates, and we discover how other factors, including a candidate's access to financial resources, influence the allocation of ads and visits.

Campaign Microtargeting and the Relevance of the Televised Political Ad. 2009. The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics.

Several trends, both societal and technological, suggest that televised political advertising should be losing its position at the center of today's political campaign, but is this the case? Analyzing ad-tracking data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential nominating campaigns, I show that the use of televised political advertising has, if anything, increased over time. Although campaigns may be focusing more nowadays on micro-targeting and "ground war" tactics, they have far from abandoned the traditional 30-second political spot.

Local Television and Newspaper Coverage of Political Advertising. With Erika Franklin Fowler. 2009. Political Communication.

How often do the news media cover the advertising of political candidates? And how do the characteristics of the news outlet, the media market, the race and the advertisements themselves influence the extent to which this ad amplification takes place? Examining Senate and gubernatorial campaign coverage by several newspapers and local television stations in five Midwestern states in 2006, we find that coverage of advertising is quite extensive, most of it is low quality, and its volume depends both on the size of the market and the tone of the spots aired. Surprisingly, however, television stations were not more likely than newspapers to cover advertising, though television does appear to be more sensitive to negative advertising, consistent with our theory.

Free Advertising: How the Media Amplify Campaign Messages. 2008. With Glen R. Smith. Political Research Quarterly.

The impact of political ads paid for by candidates is amplified because of the free media coverage they receive. Yet how frequently does that occur? And are certain types of ads more likely to be covered? To answer these questions, we performed a content analysis of news coverage in 10 U.S. Senate campaigns in 2004. We find that ad amplification is quite common and that negative and comparative ads are much more likely to receive media attention than positive ads. This has implications for how scholars measure ad exposure and for understanding why Americans dislike negative advertising.

News Media Use and Americans’ Perceptions of Global Threat. 2008. With Andrew M. Appleton and Ashley C. Grosse. British Journal of Political Science.

This article explores the antecedents of Americans' perceptions of global threat, which may influence people's policy preferences and ultimately public policy. We focus on three predictors of global threat perceptions: news media use, global knowledge, and global experience. Using the 2004 Survey of Attitudes and Global Engagement, we discover that media use best explains global threat perceptions, but its impact is largely conditional on the characteristics of the individual and on the type of threat.

Understanding the Effect of Political Advertising on Voter Turnout: A Response to Krasno and Green. 2008. With Michael M. Franz, Paul Freedman and Kenneth M. Goldstein. Journal of Politics.

Krasno and Green have argued that political advertising has no impact on voter turnout. We remain unconvinced by their evidence, given concerns about how they measure the advertising environment, how they measure advertising tone, their choice of modeling techniques and the generalizability of their findings. These differences aside, we strongly agree that political advertising does little to undermine voter participation.

Evaluating Measures of Campaign Tone. 2008. With Michael M. Franz. Political Communication.

Much recent research has examined campaign tone-how positive or negative a campaign is-and its influence on a variety of political behaviors, including voter turnout. Yet there is little research testing the validity of these measures. Does the tone of candidate advertising, for example, reflect the tone of media coverage of a campaign? In this paper, we evaluate several methods of assessing tone, focusing specifically on several U.S. Senate races from 1998-2002. We find that several of the measures are closely related, and one's substantive findings are seldom altered by substituting one measure for another. Thus, theory, and matters of practicality, should guide one's choice of tone measures.

Does Political Advertising Persuade? 2007. With Michael M. Franz. Political Behavior.

Well over $1 billion was spent on televised political advertising in the United States in 2004. Given the ubiquity of the 30-second spot, one might presume that ads must affect viewers' vote choices. Somewhat surprisingly, though, scholars have yet to make much progress in confirming this claim. In this paper, we leverage a comprehensive dataset that tracks political ads in the nation's top media markets and a survey of presidential and U.S. Senate voters in 2004. We ask whether exposure to presidential and Senate advertising influences voters' evaluations of candidates and the choices that they make at the ballot box. In the end, we find considerable evidence that advertising persuades-and that its impact varies depending on the characteristics of the viewer.

Does the Media Agenda Reflect the Candidates' Agenda? 2007. With Rob Mellen, Jr. Harvard International Journal/Press Politics.

This article examines whether the issue agendas of political candidates are reflected in the coverage of the news media. In their coverage of political issues during a campaign, do the media follow the lead of the candidates or do they chart their own course? The context for our investigation is five U.S. Senate races in 2002. Using television advertising to track the candidate agenda and using content analyses of both local newspapers and local television news broadcasts, we find that the degree of candidate-media issue convergence varies depending on both the state and on the medium examined (television or newspapers).

Dialogue in American Political Campaigns? An Examination of Issue Engagement in Candidate Television Advertising. 2006. With Noah Kaplan and David K. Park. American Journal of Political Science.

The theory of issue ownership holds that competing candidates should avoid discussing many of the same issues during a campaign. In contrast, theories of democracy suggest that competitive elections are the mechanism by which the public can hold politicians accountable. To determine the extent to which each theory depicts current campaigns, we develop a new measure of “issue convergence” and test whether or not issue convergence increases as the competitiveness of the race increases. Using new data based upon television advertising aired in U.S. Senate campaigns from 1998 through 2002, we find that issue engagement or dialogue occurs more frequently than indicated by previous research. We also find that issue engagement increases with the competitiveness of the race but that issue engagement decreases as the gap in financial resources between candidates increases.

Measuring the Effects of Televised Political Advertising in the United States. 2004. With Ken Goldstein. Annual Review of Political Science.

In the United States, televised political advertising is the main way that modern campaigns communicate with voters. Although political scientists have made great progress in the study of its effects in recent decades, much of that progress has come in the area of advertising's indirect effects: its impact on learning and the effect of its tone on voter turnout. This essay reviews what scholars know about how political advertising affects voter decisions, voter knowledge, and election outcomes. We argue that scholars still have a long road to travel before being able to speak definitively about whether and to what extent political advertisements are successful in achieving the goal of their sponsors: winning elections. This state of affairs may be due to the vast number of methods used to measure the key independent variable in these studies: advertising exposure. Accordingly, in the last section of the essay, we review and critique seven approaches to the study of political advertising.

Evaluating Measures of Campaign Advertising Exposure on Political Learning. 2004. With Dhavan V. Shah, Kenneth M. Goldstein and Michael M. Franz. Political Behavior.

Scholars employ various methods to measure exposure to televised political advertising but often arrive at conflicting conclusions about its impact on the thoughts and actions of citizens. We attempt to clarify one of these debates while validating a parsimonious measure of political advertising exposure. To do so, we assess the predictive power of six different measurement approaches—from the simple to the complex—on learning about political candidates. Two datasets are used in this inquiry: (1) geo-coded political advertising time-buy data, and (2) a national panel study concerning patterns of media consumption and levels of political knowledge. We conclude that many traditional methods of assessing exposure are flawed. Fortunately, there is a relatively simple measure that predicts knowledge about information featured in ads. This measure involves combining a tally of the volume of advertisements aired in a market with a small number of survey questions about the television viewing habits of geo-coded respondents.

The Politics of Participation: Mobilization and Turnout Over Time. 2002. With Ken Goldstein. Political Behavior.

Recent studies have argued that mobilization is not only an important determinant of individual participation, but that it can explain the mystery of declining voter turnout in the United States over the past 40 years. We identify and evaluate three possible ways in which mobilization might have affected levels of turnout over time: (a) aggregate rates of mobilization may have declined, (b) the effectiveness of mobilization contacts may have declined, and (c) the targeting of mobilization may have changed. The first two theories have been well articulated in the literature; the third has not. We find no evidence of a decline in mobilizing activity, nor do we find that mobilizing techniques have become less effective. Although we find that campaigns are more likely to target habitual voters in recent years, this pattern of behavior can only explain a small amount of the overall decline in turnout.

Working Papers

Measuring the Nature and Effects of Campaign Advertising. 2002. With Michael Franz, Kenneth Goldstein and Paul Freedman.

One reason scholarly debates over the effects of campaign advertising still continue is that good measures of the frequency and content of the advertising environment and valid indicators of advertising exposure have been unavailable. In this paper, we review six approaches to the measurement of campaign advertising, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each in turn. We then highlight the use of advertising tracking data for measuring the campaign information environment, a technique that has many of the advantages of traditional approaches without many of the disadvantages. We offer assessments of the approach’s validity and reliability before showing how it can be used in combination with survey data to test hypotheses and make claims about advertising’s influence on political attitudes and voting behavior.