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Yes, political advertising is still important to Donald Trump as well


Advertising for the federal election will soon begin in earnest. Just last week Hillary Clinton announced that it would be campaigning for the general election on many battlefields, but there is no indication of where or when Donald Trump’s campaign will react.

There was a lot of political advertising on television during the primaries. According to one count, ads were run nearly three quarters of a million times. Media consultants will tell you the primary ads worked. But that is to be expected, because it is often in their financial interests to get candidates to advertise. What is more surprising is that research by political scientists, some of which involve creative and carefully designed field experiments in collaboration with real campaigns, confirm this assumption.

The evidence suggests that campaign ads have small effects that quickly – very quickly – fade away, but just enough of the effect accumulates to serve more advertisements than your opponent makes it seem necessary.

It triggers an arms race of ads as candidates try to neutralize or displace their opponents. But will the 2016 federal elections be different? Mr Trump has used unconventional campaign tactics and relied on free media to get his messages across. All of this can make advertising less relevant.

One study estimated that most of the impact of an ad in a presidential election was gone within a day or two of it aired (I’m one of the authors of this article). In governor, congressional and senate elections, the effect lasts a little longer: three or four days. Various authors in the laboratory have shown volatile effects on campaigns; in Canada; in the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections; in the 2006 midterm elections; in the 2012 parliamentary elections; and in field trials in a Texas governor area code in 2006 and a general election in 2014.

The takeaway from these studies is simple: while the effects of ad imbalance are small and go away quickly, candidates cannot allow them to pile up. Election day may still be a long way off, but candidates may still want to adjust their opponents’ daily advertising in the months leading up to the election because they are interested in publicly published news polls that give voters – and donors – information about their viability and proximity to the polls Run.

Candidates, consultants and media consultants seem to understand this cycle of seemingly daily one-upmanship. In the last presidential election, it began back in the summer of 2012 when Barack Obama’s campaign tried to define Mitt Romney as rich and contactless. Just days after Mr. Obama’s attack began, Mr. Romney’s campaign began a counterattack that matched purchases in the Florida and Ohio markets.

Will it be any different with Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton? I guess not and here is why.

Using Kantar Media’s data on all ads broadcast between September 2015 and late May 2016, it’s easy to see that Mr Trump (or groups advertising on his behalf) ran a lot of ads during the primaries. In fact, they ran almost as many ads as Jeb Bush and his supporters, and far more than those who supported John Kasich or Ben Carson. Most of the ads broadcast by or for Mr. Trump were positive – they promoted his own ideas and did not attack his opponents, while most of Ted Cruz and Mr. Bush’s ads were attacks.

With all this Republican attack advertising – roughly 60 percent of the ads that were for or by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Bush and 40 percent for or by Marco Rubio – how did Mr. Trump come out unscathed as a Republican candidate? A look at the content of these attacks provides an explanation.

Most of the early attacks from Mr. Cruz, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Rubio were not directed against Mr. Trump; they were aimed at each other. A small series of attacks on Mr Trump were circulated on the airwaves in December, but serious anti-Trump advertising only began again after the contest in South Carolina.

On March 14, the day before the Florida, Illinois and Ohio primary elections, more than 4,000 attacks were broadcast against Mr. Trump. Most were led by Our Principles PAC, accusing Trump of hiring undocumented workers on his construction sites, engaging in illegal and fraudulent conduct with Trump University, and defrauding Floridians who bought into a real estate investment in Tampa.

Some of these attack reports ran nationwide, and many were mentioned in news reports. It was a coordinated effort by many Republicans who saw this as a critical moment in order to weaken Mr Trump’s momentum. Polls suggest that the springtime advertising spree took some of the shine of Mr. Trump’s leadership (suggesting he may be vulnerable to prolonged attacks on the airwaves). But then the volume of attacks stopped and his polls returned to their pre-attack levels.

If the attacks had continued or happened sooner, there is some evidence that Mr Trump would have responded with more ads of his own in an attempt to rebalance the balance. Just as these attacks were ramping up, Mr Trump stepped up his advertising. This answer suggests a candidate who is fully engaged in the ad war battle.

There are still more than 140 days until the 2016 presidential election and the most intense campaign is yet to come. Given Mr Trump’s advertising campaigns in the primary, there is little reason to believe that he will forego television advertising in the general election.


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