A Data Study: What are the Candidates Saying to Me?

What are the candidates saying to me with their advertising? I’ve been collecting data on video ads for some time, and recently notice an uptick in political ads from candidates in the past few months. Makes sense. After all, the Democratic Primaries are in full swing.

Having grown up in Northern California and living in San Francisco, I know the candidates are busy elsewhere in the country. They’re busy building up support for their campaigns in other states, with earlier primaries than California’s. We don’t really see much of the candidates at this point. Most of what I’ve seen of them so far, has been in the debates and in comedy show interviews. I’ve also been seeing the words they use in their online advertisements.

I decided to take a closer look at the last two months of data I’ve been collecting on YouTube video ads, and dig into the text of those ads. My first experiment with visualizing this data takes the form of word clouds. The bigger the text in the cloud, the more often it occurs in the source text.

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Word cloud generated with words in Warren ads observed from Jan 1, 2020 — Feb 29, 2020.

From Elizabeth Warren’s team, I’ve been seeing the same banner ad repeatedly. It’s on a light green background, and the text says “Voter survey: Elizabeth wants to hear from you”.

Word cloud generated with words in Sanders ads observed from Jan 1, 2020 — Feb 29, 2020.

Sanders has been running a series of video ads that have shown up in my study. The text of his word cloud is based on text displayed in those ads. In the ads I’m seeing, Sanders mentions the “establishment” frequently.

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Word cloud generated with words in Trump ads observed from Jan 1, 2020 — Feb 29, 2020.

Why include Trump here? Well, he is a candidate. He’s the Republican candidate, and I’m seeing more of his ads than anyone else’s. In the last two months (Jan-Feb), I’ve seen a lot of his ads calling on me to “Demand Adam Schiff resign” and asking if I “support” him. Ads that say “President Trump wants to hear what you think about socialism and these radical left ideas” are also starting to show up in my study.

What about the other candidates? Well, in the last two months, I’ve captured only three ad instances from Bloomberg, and none from any of the other candidates. They’re advertising, just not to me. At least not in the past two months.

These observations are those of just one person, me. I’m still working on sharing what I’ve found, and making tools for others to make their own observations. You can read more on project’s background and technical approach.

Some technical details:

  • While I’ve got my settings to ‘do not personalize ads’, I’m still targeted based on my physical location.
  • Word clouds were built with a modified version of Jason Davies’ word cloud builder.

Data Visualization Consultant. Generative and Data Artist. Creative Coder. Founder of GalaxyGoo. http://kristinhenry.github.io/

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