A Brief Word on ‘Magic’ Words

We took a quick look at magic word usage by interest groups in House and Senate races in 2008 and 2010 (1/1-10/5 in both cases).  The short story is that magic words are used far more often this year in House races (1 in every 3 IG ads, compared to 1 in 10 in 2008) and 1 in 10 Senate ads (up from 0% in 2008).

Table 1. Interest Group Use of Magic Words
% of IG Ads Using Magic Words
US House 2008 10.4
2010* 35.6
US Senate 2008 0.1
2010* 10.2
*2010 numbers are based on on-going coding, meaning percent will change as more ads are coded

CITE SOURCE OF DATA IN TABLE AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

The origin and definition of Magic Words:  Magic words come from a footnote in a Supreme Court decision (Buckley v. Valeo) in which the Court speculated about what terms might distinguish pure issue ads from express advocacy explicitly designed to influence electoral outcomes.  The words include: vote for, elect, support, cast your ballot, [X] for Congress (or similar), vote against, defeat, reject.