As the 2024 U.S. elections gain momentum, political campaigns and advertising agencies are turning to a new ally, artificial intelligence, to disseminate their messages. This emerging technology presents both risks and potential benefits for the political advertising industry. AI-powered tools can generate new text, images, video, and speech from a single prompt to weave into campaign messages. Political campaigns are already using these tools to create messages for ads and fundraising solicitations. AI software can even compose campaign emails. Generative AI is poised to redefine modern campaigning, although the exact nature of its influence remains uncertain. However, despite calls for regulation or moratoria in Congress, the Federal Election Commission, and even the political consultants’ trade association, national lawmakers have yet to address the new technology.
New AI software products are inexpensive, require almost no training to use, and can generate seemingly limitless content. These tools can support personalized advertising at scale, reducing the need for large digital teams and leveling the playing field for campaigns that lack substantial resources. Yet AI also introduces a novel set of challenges, from a tendency to generate bland and repetitive text to the risk of misleading audiences and amplifying ongoing election misinformation issues. This essay examines ways in which AI — and specifically large language models that generate text — can enhance campaigns’ voter outreach efforts, the cautions that campaigns must exercise when embracing new AI tools, and the market forces affecting both the technology itself and campaigns’ experience as generative AI consumers.
We focus primarily on considerations that could influence the decision-making of campaigns themselves. Other essays in this series delve into broader threats to democracy associated with AI use, like the disturbing trend of AI-generated deepfakes in campaigns and AI as a tool for voter suppression, along with policy responses to these problems. Here, we take a campaign’s-eye view of some of the strengths and weaknesses of generative AI in political advertising and the likely course that the market will take.