“Sick of Watching”: Political advertising overwhelms North Carolina
NAGS-HEAD, NC –
Ronnie Chatterji’s popular 30-second television commercial, running for state treasurer, confronts one of the key issues in this battlefield state.
“Look, I can’t stop this commercial,” admits the Democrat and looks into the camera. “You can stop this here,” begs his daughter, who is playing on a swing. His little son calls the ad “Boooing!”
If the spot hits a nerve here, it’s because North Carolina has been flooded with more political ads than any other state – with a staggering 7,000 ads that aired on Wednesday alone in a state with just six small to medium-sized TV markets.
The non-stop, back-to-back ads are storming the airwaves, a rush that has cost more than $ 500 million across all races. That beats any state except California, which has four times the population, 14 other television markets, and a dozen statewide voting initiatives.
Across the country, candidates for state, local, and national office have spent a staggering $ 7.8 billion on television and digital advertising this election cycle, according to analysis for The Times conducted by Advertising Analytics, a research firm specializing in political Advertising pursued.
That is not just more than the annual gross domestic product of many small countries. It’s roughly three times the amount of money spent on political ads four years ago, a sign of the fervor – and concern – surrounding this year’s election.
Here in North Carolina, voters feel bombarded to the point of stunned not only watching TV or scrolling Facebook, but also by half a dozen leaflets jamming their mailboxes every day, all aimed at the still convincing voters who are still out there have not made a decision or cast their vote.
“How to be undecided at this point … I really don’t know,” said Jeff Jones, 60, who owns a heavy equipment business in Raleigh. The rush of ads, he said, “is likely to make more people sick of watching.”
The unprecedented advertising war has exploded here because North Carolina is a battlefield state not just for President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, but for other potentially crucial races up and down.
Democratic governor Roy Cooper faces a re-election campaign. Senator Thom Tillis is one of the weakest Republican incumbents in the country, and his challenger Cal Cunningham could hand over control of the Senate to the Democrats if he wins.
The two candidates and outside groups have spent about $ 250 million in this race, the country’s most expensive Senate campaign.
Negative ads from the two campaigns sometimes alternate on afternoon TV and local news programs.
Cunningham’s Senate Campaign is “a Big Lie!” his opponent is charging. Tillis “always stands behind Big Pharma!” And is “corrupt!” his rival answers.
In between, there are advertisements about state Senate candidates who are allegedly trying to take away the health system – the dominant topic in the attack reports from the Democrats here – and a state official who “wants to weaken our local hospital”.
There is a retired Air Force colonel who “put himself on the line for us” and is now fighting a politician who votes with “special interests.” Another spot slams a candidate for the office of attorney general who “routinely lets criminals run free”.
A recent Cunningham scandal with adulterous text messaging has given Tillis, who is lagging behind in the polls, a lot more fodder.
In one paid for by American Crossroads, a super PAC that supports Republicans, a young woman scoffs at the camera and says that Cunningham’s infidelity “tells me everything I need to know about Cal’s character.” Another ad shows military veterans questioning Cunningham’s honor.
In the presidential race, Trump has almost no path to re-election without winning North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. Polls show he is lagging Biden in the state, where the two campaigns and outside groups are embroiled in an advertising war that has cost $ 162 million to date.
And thanks to the court-ordered redistribution, Democrats are expected to take at least two seats in the US House of Representatives and potentially to flip the state legislature. Seven separate seats in the House of Representatives and Senate each have spent more than $ 1 million, a sum that was once unheard of in such small races.
What candidates and donors are getting for their money is hard to say, especially since the ads collide.
A study published last month in Science Advances magazine, which was based on data from 34,000 voters, found that political advertising had negligible effect in the 2016 presidential election, with only 0.7% of people changing their minds about who they were should choose.
“Partisan group identity is simply a very important choice for voting,” said Alexander Coppock, lead author of the study and assistant professor of political science at Yale University. “You just can’t move people like that with an ad.”
If the choice is tight, a small head start might matter. Other studies have shown that ads can have a much greater impact on down-vote races where the candidates and their positions are less known.
Chatterji, the candidate for state treasurer, whose children mock him in his ad, makes his first offer for public office. As an economist who teaches economics and politics at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, he’s not sure how many people see his ads.
“The truth is nobody knows,” he said.
In the end, he may have found something more effective than a clever script or an attack – cute kids.
“People come up to me and say, ‘I saw your ad and your kids are going to win this election for you,'” he said.