New at work: Mixed Messages

Written by Adrian Holovaty on August 11, 2006

We launched a pretty cool project at work that I think would be worth mentioning here: Mixed Messages is a database of political campaign ads from across the country. The political team has collected and categorized dozens of these ads according to a wide array of criteria, such as the ad's music (patriotic, somber, ominous, upbeat), issues mentioned (the economy, crime, etc.), ad characters (firemen, farmers, blue collar workers, teachers) and common visual cues and cliches (American flags, soldiers, black and white photography, images of Sept. 11). It's fun -- and revealing -- to explore the ads in these various ways.

We've also tagged each ad by year, state, candidate, political party, funding source, tone, narrator gender, language and dissemination (TV, Web, radio).

Jason Manning and our political team compiled the data, Alyson Hurt did the design and I did the programming (using Python/Django). Let me know if you have any ideas for improving the site.


Posted by Simon Willison on August 11, 2006, at 6:52 p.m.:

An interesting thing about this data set is that while it's quite small (at the moment anyway) but potentially contains a bunch of interesting hidden facts - things like which party uses which visual clues the most often, relationships between music and issues and so on. Exposing the data in a reusable form (XML, JSON or even some kind of Excel spreadsheet) could really encourage people to discover those relationships for themselves.

Posted by Brent O'Connor on August 11, 2006, at 7:36 p.m.:

It might be cool to add ratings so that you could see what ads peopled liked the best. You could have ratings for how funny, sad or positive it was.

Posted by Brent O'Connor on August 11, 2006, at 7:38 p.m.:

PS, I checked out Mixed Messages and found this one,! Favorite quote, "Our candidate might consort with terrorist Ninjas, we don't know."

Posted by anonymous on August 12, 2006, at 5:50 a.m.:

Why don't you show which _party_ a candidate belongs to when drilling down to their name through some starting category? I'd be interested in seeing if these things break down by party lines among other factors.

Posted by anonymous on August 12, 2006, at 5:55 a.m.:

OK, nevermind the previous comment. I notice that all the information is displayed after clicking through the ad's name. I kept expecting that information to be displayed whenever I clicked on a candidate's name.

Good work on the site. Thanks for letting us know!

Posted by Jeff Winkler on August 12, 2006, at 6:33 a.m.:

I'd be interested in seeing a line graph of ad type... presumably attack ads ramp up over time.

Also a visualization of a dimension by region, and having another dimension of which campaigns are considered battleground elections.

What about tagging? The fixed vocabulary (cues in particular) seems arbitrary... people may view things along different axes.

Another fascinating dimension, which is probably impossible to track, are the "dirty tricks" brochures/leaflets which (I've read) appear without attribution, giving stuff like the wrong polling date/location :)

Posted by Brendan on August 14, 2006, at 8:31 p.m.:

Check spelling of independent in the blub on the projects homepage on the web. It is misspelled.

Posted by Adrian on August 14, 2006, at 9:46 p.m.:

Thanks, Brendan! Fixed now.

Posted by Bret Walker on August 15, 2006, at 11:05 p.m.:

It would be nice if all the videos were encoded in FLV format, for easy inline viewing.

Posted by anonymous on August 16, 2006, at 4:37 p.m.:

Would be nice if tags could be combined for intersection... Like Connecticut + Senate

Posted by Adrian on August 16, 2006, at 4:58 p.m.:

anonymous: Yeah, we considered doing that, but the number of ads per state is so small that it wouldn't be worth having a Connecticut Senate page.

Posted by Andrés on August 16, 2006, at 7:05 p.m.:

Any information you can share about the hardware configuration (replication?load balancing?) behind the site?

Posted by Adrian on August 16, 2006, at 8:18 p.m.:

Andrés: Nope, can't share that.

Posted by Wong on August 30, 2006, at 11:19 p.m.:

I'd be nice to have a Top10 selection of the ads according to their popularity and efficiency. Also a hall of Fame and maybe better, a hall of Shame would make a nice touch.

Posted by anonymous on September 8, 2006, at 4:27 p.m.:

NRSC just launched a database of all Republican ads. They have some you can steal.

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