The Digital Campaigns Project is an effort to establish a long-running data source on state campaign rhetoric by archiving campaign websites for state-level elected officials. Current work focuses on developing a database of state legislative campaign website in order to examine variation state partisan agendas and rhetoric. Campaign website html files from the 2016, 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2022 elections have been archived, and platform and issue pages have been extracted to compile lists of candidate issue positions coded according to policy arena using the Policy Agendas Project.

History of the Project

The Digital Campaigns Project began in the Fall of 2016. However, the motivation for the project had begun with the dramatic political tides of the 2010 campaign season. The Republican wave of 2010 was built in large part by a mounting state resistance to the Affordable Care Act on which candidates capitalized. In the process, Republicans were able to build strong majorities in state legislatures going into a redistricting year. While scholars and journalists pointed to focus on the national partisan agenda with regard to state-level references to Medicaid expansion, it raised an important question about the broader context of state politics: to what extent do nationalized partisan issues dominate state political and campaign rhetoric, at the expense of more localized issues?

This question became especially prominent in the spring and summer of 2016 as the presidential primary and general election campaigns intensified. Across the aisle, national candidates were reshaping their party’s political agendas in interesting and dynamic ways. The expectation from political scientists was that increasing constituent polarization and the nationalization of the media environment would drive these changes into state legislative campaigns and later debates in state legislative chambers. However, political science lacked the mechanisms to test this theory within the campaign setting, with no systemic data collection efforts regarding state political campaigns.

The Digital Campaigns Project attempted to fill this hole by beginning work archiving state legislative campaign websites. In 2016, only website text was archived and preserved for all major party lower chamber candidates in the states. However, starting in 2018, the project began partnering with to create a digital web archive of websites. Data collection has continued on both fronts and the project now includes data from 2020, 2021, and 2022. We also began preserving primary campaign website content in 2022. In all, the project has preserved digital archives of over 25,000 websites across 6 years. At the University of South Carolina, project data is currently being used for research for 3 senior thesis, four undergraduate research projects, and extensive faculty and graduate student work.

Throughout this time, the project has been funded by Cornell University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the National Science Foundation. Our 2022 data collection efforts were made possible by our current host, the University of South Carolina, specifically the USC Honors College and the College of Arts and Science Creative Scholarship Fund.