Judicial Election Ads:
Major Themes in 2013-14

2013–14 was a breakout year for criminal justice-themed ads. They swept the field by accounting for 56%* of all television ads.

That’s nearly 22,000 spots and more than double the next two themes.

*Ads can have multiple themes, therefore the total here may not correspond to the total ads aired elsewhere in the report.


Major Themes

Who Are You? If You’re A… 


…it’s likely you ran traditional ads.

Ads with traditional themes were the most common type of spot sponsored by candidates. This includes ads touting a candidate’s experience, education, background, and values. Nearly 10,000 candidate-sponsored ads featured this theme and all were positive in tone.


…it’s likely you ran criminal justice or family value ads.

Most party-sponsored ads were either criminal justice or family values themed. Criminal justice ads often portray a candidate as “tough” or “soft” on crime and family values ads highlighted a candidate’s history of protecting children and families. Parties sponsored roughly 4,000 of each type of ad.

partyOutside Group

…it’s likely you ran criminal justice ads.

At nearly 11,000 spots, the overwhelming majority of ads sponsored by special-interest groups were criminal justice-themed. Almost half of these ads were negative in tone, criticizing candidates for their failure to protect victims. Many ads were also positive, praising a candidate for their tough stance against criminals.

What Are The Themes? 

No. 1

Criminal Justice

Ads describing a candidate as being “tough” or “soft” on crime. Highlights a candidate’s record prosecuting criminals, standing up for victims’ rights, and/or upholding death sentences. Showcases endorsements by police officers and/or prosecutors.

No. 2

Role of Judges

Ads describing the proper way for judges to act. Emphasizes fairness and impartiality, and notes that judges should be free of outside influences when presiding over cases.

No. 3


Ads highlighting a candidate’s experience, personal and professional qualifications, education, character, family, and community involvement.

No. 4

Family Values

Ads that praise a candidate for protecting children and families. May deal with issues such as child predators and domestic violence.

No. 5

Special-Interest Influence

Ads claiming judges are “for sale” or “in the pocket” of big corporations. May praise a judge for ignoring special interests, or criticize a candidate for favoring outside groups and giving in to political pressure.

No. 6

Civil Justice

Ads that deal with dangerous/defective products, accidents, personal injury lawyers/trial lawyers, medical malpractice and insurance, drug companies, corporations and big businesses.

No. 7


Ads that criticize a judge for a ruling in a past case, or for their rulings in a specific type of case.

No. 8

Conservative Values

Ads describing a candidate as having conservative values; may emphasize community and religion.