Graduation Date


Document Type

Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science and International Studies

Department or Program Chair

Alison Howard, MA

First Reader

Gigi Gokcek, PhD


How do politicians choose which issues to emphasize in an election? Studying campaign behavior is crucial to understanding how political ads target voters and prioritize issues. Senate candidates normally attempt to either nationalize the election or emphasize state issues in their campaigns. How do Senate incumbent and challenger candidates differ in terms of issue prioritization? I hypothesize the challengers attempt to nationalize the election, while the incumbents generally focus their efforts on state issues. Political conventional wisdom indicates challengers typically try to nationalize the election by attempting to criticize the incumbent for either supporting or voting against the current presidential administration. In contrast, incumbents tend to focus on state issues because they have the ability to claim credit for work done in their state, and usually know their constituency better than the challenger. However, current literature is inconclusive, requiring further research. This study is qualitative and uses content analysis to examine political ads from five different senate elections in 2014: Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Alaska. The data are compelling as they reflect trends during a midterm election of a second term presidency in which the constituents appear to be rising against the current party in power.