Addiction & Overdose

Political Campaign Ads and Drug Overdoses

September 7, 2022

In 2019, Assistant Professor Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, Dean Colleen Barry and their team set out to study the association between political campaign ads mentioning drugs in the 2012 and 2016 election cycles and local overdose death rates. They hoped that exploring the role of drug-related issues in political campaign TV ads could provide insight on the prominence of this issue for candidates, and the extent to which campaign advertising content reflects local conditions. 

With funding from the Initiative, the researchers used descriptive and spatial statistics to see how campaign advertising mentions of drugs varied by location in all 210 US media markets. They found that the share of campaign ads mentioning drugs grew from 0.5% in the 2012 election cycle to 1.6% in the 2016 cycle. In the 2016 cycle, ads airing in media markets with overdose mortality rates in the 95th percentile were more than three times as likely to mention drugs as ads airing in areas with overdose mortality rates in the 5th percentile.  

The team found that a small proportion of campaign advertising mentioned drug-related issues. In the 2016 cycle, these ads appeared more often in areas hardest hit by the drug overdose crisis and in advertising for local races.  

Although political campaign advertising may signal motivation to address drug-related issues, the researchers next want to analyze the extent to which politicians actually advance policies to address these issues once in office, and how. The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law published their findings in 2021. 

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