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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Johns Hopkins: Political TV Ads Referencing Guns Increased Eightfold Over Four Election Cycles

The number of political candidate television advertisements that refer to guns increased significantly across four election cycles in U.S. media markets, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study, published in the February issue of Health Affairs, analyzed more than 14 million televised campaign advertisements that aired for candidates running for president, U.S. Congress, governor, and state legislatures in 210 U.S. media markets over four election cycles in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. The researchers found that the number of political ads aired that referenced guns increased by 369,600, an eightfold increase from one percent of candidate-related television political ads aired in 2012 to 8 percent in 2018.

Among the televised political ads aired that referenced guns, the share with gun regulation-oriented messages that were focused on reducing gun violence increased almost threefold over time — from 10 percent of all gun-related political ads aired in the 2012 election, to 37 percent in the 2018 election. Alternatively, pro-gun rights advertisements decreased from 86 percent of all gun-related political ads aired in the 2012 election, to less than half — 46 percent — in the 2018 election.

The study found that over the four election cycles, five percent, or 721,238 of the 14.17 million campaign ads that aired on television, had gun-related references. Overall, 51 percent were gun rights references and 29 percent were gun regulation messages.

Dr. Colleen Barry, Fred and Julie Soper Professor and Chair of the Bloomberg School’s department of health policy and management, is the study’s lead author.

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