Do last minute ad smear campaigns work? Is there a strategy to how campaigns target TV programs when placing political ads? MIT Media Lab students, taught by Rahul Bhargavaasked these questions and more, using Political TV Ad Archive data and other resources to come up with some compelling insights, not to mention visualizations. Their work demonstrates how the Political TV Ad Archive data set can be used to great effect in the classroom.

Michelle Thomas, Reem Alfaiz, and Andrew Mikofalvy discovered that last-minute attack ads were helpful for candidates looking to pull out a win in Super Tuesday states. They combined Political TV Ad Archive data with election results in the Super Tuesday states tracked by the project. Here’s the infographic they created.


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Felipe Lozano-Landinez, Jane Coffrin, and Julia Appel were curious about which TV programs were targeted by political campaigns for ads, and why. They were as interested in who wasn’t advertising as much–see: Donald Trump–as much as who was. They also delved into the proportion of positive and negative messages. Here are a sample of the charts they created.

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On the chart above, the students noted that news shows were by far the biggest targets for political ads. But they also remarked, “What surprised us most about the breakdown of ads on news shows wasn’t who was advertising most frequently; it was who wasn’t. “Notice Donald Trump, Republican nominee frontrunner and winner of seven states on Super Tuesday. He ran nearly 2/3 fewer ads than Marco Rubio, half as many as Jeb Bush (who didn’t even make it to Super Tuesday), and 300 less than Ted Cruz.”

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On the chart above focusing on whether ads were positive or negative, the students noted: “…Donald Trump didn’t waste time attacking his opponents: he ran no attack ads (those marked with ‘con’ emotive content) on news shows. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco on the other hand, were slinging mud all over the place.”

Judy Chang, Iris Fung, and Eric Lau wanted to tell the story about how super PACs supporting non-Trump candidates did not focus on Trump. (This was back in early March, before the big anti-Trump ad blitz in Florida a few weeks later.):

“The data say that SuperPACs supporting non-Trump candidates are more interested in attacking other non-Trump candidates than Donald Trump. We want to tell this story because it stands in stark contrast to the #NeverTrump movement.”

The students created this infographic that illustrates the story, in hope of combining “humor and data to give the reader a non-obvious insight on the Republican race.” Here’s the result.

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See other info graphics the MIT students created here.  And please let us know if you’ve used the Political TV Ad Archive in your classroom, and if so, how. Write us at or tweet