The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are behind us, and Super Tuesday is just around the corner. So far in this presidential campaign season, candidates have used the web in new and creative ways - including social networks, maps mashups, geo-targeting online ads and even sending a Twitter or two. While none of these tools can take the place of voters sizing up a candidate up close (bringing to mind the New Hampshire voter who once said she hadn't made up her mind about a candidate because "I've only met him twice"), these new technologies have helped voters get more personally engaged in the political process.

The same is true of ads. TV and radio campaign ads, with their charges and counter-charges, have long been a staple of political campaigns. And increasingly, candidates of all political stripes are using keyword ads on Google and other search engines to help reach voters who care about particular issues. Political candidates used to have to go door-to-door or stand outside supermarkets to recruit potential supporters. Now they can build a base of support more efficiently online, in part by using Google's targeted advertising tools to reach prospective voters directly.

This is a good thing for the political process. We recognize that the nature of political advertising is to inspire debate, and we are committed to fairness and freedom of expression. Last year, we created an elections team to help political campaigns use our advertising tools. And we recently published new guidelines for political ads placed on Google. A few key parts of those policies:

  • Editorial Guidelines. Like all AdWords ads, political ads must follow our editorial and content policies (including our trademark policies). Google may refuse any ads or terminate ad campaigns at any time, for any reason, as noted in the advertising Terms and Conditions.

  • Fairness. We permit political advertisements regardless of the political views they represent, and apply our policies equally. Just as the Net itself provides space for a thousand political opinions to bloom, Google is committed to being a neutral platform for people to advertise their political messages.

  • No attacks on an individual's personal life. Stating disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate for public office, a political party, or public administration is generally permissible. However, political ads must not include accusations or attacks relating to an individual's personal life, nor can they advocate against a protected group. So, "Crime rates are up under Police Commissioner Gordon" is okay, but "Police Commissioner Gordon had an affair" is not.
  • Donations. If you're soliciting political donations, your ad's landing page must clearly state that the donations are non-tax-deductible.

  • No misleading ads. As with all AdWords advertisements, political ads should not mislead users (for example, using ad text that leads a user to believe that they're clicking on Dog Catcher Jones' ad when it's really his challenger's ad). Ad text must be clear, easy to read, and descriptive of a candidate or cause.
Political campaigns and candidates with questions about these policies are encouraged contact our elections team. In the meantime, we hope that you'll take the time to learn about the candidates, their views, and who is best prepared to lead our country.