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Reynolds and Hall publish article on issue advertising and legislators’ votes for the ACA

August 14, 2017

Molly E. Reynolds (PhD '15) and Richard L. Hall co-authored an August 8 paper in Political Research Quarterly: "Issue Advertising and Legislative Voting on the Affordable Care Act."


During the congressional fight over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), interest groups spent record sums on television issue advertising in targeted efforts to influence members of Congress, but did the money make any difference? We use the literatures on outside lobbying and legislative behavior to develop two hypotheses about issue advertising’s effects on members’ voting decisions. We test the hypotheses using population-weighted, station-level advertising data mapped into congressional districts. We find negligible evidence that issue advertising had a causal effect on either House committee or floor votes on the ACA, even applying forgiving statistical standards. Neither do we find evidence when we ignore the endogeneity bias that should inflate advertising’s effects, employ alternative measures and specifications, or limit the analysis to legislators for whom the probability of vote change was highest. The results justify skepticism that the millions of advertising dollars spent on the ACA had a net effect on members’ voting decisions. In conclusion, we consider several reasons why our hypotheses are not borne out and suggest several avenues for future research.