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It’s all politics: NPR

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Thomas Checkler, owner of The Old Village Barber in Worthington, Ohio, speaks about the impact the flood of political advertisements had on him and his clients during the 2012 presidential campaign. Mike Munden / AP Hide caption

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Mike Münden / AP

Thomas Checkler, owner of The Old Village Barber in Worthington, Ohio, speaks about the impact the flood of political advertisements had on him and his clients during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Mike Münden / AP

The 2016 election already provides a lot of eye-catching statistics on the increasing spending that candidates will make in the 2016 election. Including:

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s superPAC has already raised more – in the first half of a year without elections – than Obama’s most important superPAC in the entire 2012 cycle.
  • The recent purchase of a major TV ad in the 2016 presidential election – on behalf of Ohio Governor John Kasich, for a total of $ 375,000 – is worth more than seven times the median annual income of U.S. households.
  • According to Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president of Kantar’s Campaign Media and Analysis Group, there were seven times more political ads in the 2016 election than in the 2012 election.

Or just try to digest the aggregated numbers. For example, political TV advertising spending this year will exceed $ 4.4 billion for federal races, up from $ 3.8 billion in 2012, Wilner estimates.

However, TV advertising appears to have had little impact on American voting behavior. So why do campaigns spend so much of their budget on TV spots? First there is the need for name recognition. Later on, fear, habit and hunger for the small ballot also drive the enormous expenses.

Does TV advertising work?

Television advertising (and complaining about it) is a time-honored tradition of elections, and for good reason. Let’s start with what TV advertising does well. One is that they reach a lot of people – 87 percent of people over 18, as Derek Willis wrote for the New York Times earlier this year. No other single medium comes close.

And for candidates who need to get the message across that they’re running, that’s important. Because TV ads reach a lot of people, they are also very effective, dollar for dollar, in promoting lesser-known candidates. Because of this, house-race challengers benefit more from ads than incumbents, as these ads give a candidate the great advantage of simply getting their name out there, wrote political scientist John Sides in 2011. The 2016 Republican primary is crowded So that’s spending a lot of money as the candidates fight for oxygen.

But the incumbents still spend a lot on ads. President Obama and his supporters spent a total of more than $ 450 million on advertising in 2012, according to an estimate. Hillary Clinton, one of the most famous US politicians, has already amassed a war chest of $ 45 million, much of which is likely to be used for television spending.

Once the general election is underway and the candidates already have the voters’ attention, the evidence is more sketchy (and many journalists before me have tried to analyze this question) … but it seems that campaigns are spending a lot of money on a short – Term affects a small group of voters.

In examining the results of the 2012 presidential election, Sides and UCLA Political Science Professor Lynn Vavreck found that while advertising had a measurable impact on voter attitudes, it was small and remarkably short-lived – it disappeared within a week.

In another much-cited 2010 study, Michael Franz von Bowdoin and Travis Ridout of Washington State University found that advertising in the 2008 election had a significant impact on voting, but they also found that you need lots of ads ( and much more than your opponent). for a small profit.

“For example, a benefit of 1,000 ads throughout the campaign resulted in a candidate’s vote share increasing by about 0.5 percentage points in 2008,” they wrote.

And as campaigns get more and more negative in their advertising, there is evidence that those negative ads don’t really change the minds of voters, as researchers from the universities of Rutgers and George Washington found in 2007.

And even if your ads are effective, they are tracking a small group of people. In the big races like the presidency, campaign advertising works only marginally – it could hit the (very) small part of the middle, but many Americans will join their parties.

Indeed, there is evidence that the number of convincing voters is shrinking as the number of moderates slowly but steadily declines and voters become more polarized. So this could mean that more advertising money will chase fewer voters in parliamentary elections.

Another problem with TV advertising, says an expert, is another growing problem: it no longer holds people’s attention as it used to.

“Television advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be,” said Donald Green, professor of political science at Columbia University.

Once upon a time people had to get up to change channels or turn down the volume to avoid commercials, he said. “In the early days of television, when people watched more carefully … you could show your ads to people who saw them right through.”

And the ways to avoid political television commercials have spread well beyond remote controls and mute buttons. Nowadays, many people could fast-forward ads on their DVR or on-demand services, Green said, or they could just fiddle with their phones during commercial breaks.

That means campaigns may at some point need to think differently about how to get voters.

“There is evidence that more and more people are turning them off [TV] Advertising, ”said Gregg Phillips, who directed Newt Gingrich’s 2012 superPAC Winning Our Future. “The younger generation is moved by a different type of advertising. You are moved by an enterprising group on Reddit that has found a way to get a message across instead of in a traditional format. “

So why buy ads?

You could argue that ads are so expensive because campaigns don’t know how effective they are going to be.

“In a highly competitive race in which the candidates are known, ads don’t make more than 2-3 percentage points of difference, but of course some races are decided after 2-3 percentage points. I don’t want to do without that,” Ridout writes in an e- Mail.

Campaigns don’t know what the return on investment of a particular ad will be, but they only care about one return: win or lose. The one voice that gets a candidate across the finish line is the voice that counts, so it’s priceless.

There’s a business reason campaigns spend so much on ads, too: Green says campaign consultants have an incentive to run ads because they’re in the media business – not only do they believe in ads, they sometimes get part of the media spend too.

Another reason spending is rising: it’s an arms race.

“We tried to compete in shopping,” Phillips said of the 2012 campaign. After winning South Carolina, the campaign was soon surpassed in Florida, where Mitt Romney’s campaign flooded voters with anti-Gingrich advertisements. He even compared the increase in spending to a military attack.

“What [the Gingrich] Campaign they faced when they left South Carolina for Florida was nothing short of a blitzkrieg. It was a kind of bombing, a bomb attack on Gingrich people that we had never seen before, “Phillips said.

And if advertising does indeed have the short-term effect that studies have found, campaigns want to keep the lightning wars going inexorably in order to keep those effects going (and avoid losing them to opponents who start their own lightning wars).

But if the general election is an arms race for ineffective advertising that affects few people, what does that mean? Could campaigns radically reduce their spending with little impact? Could you reinvest elsewhere?

One expert says they could – if they took the risk of being guinea pigs. And nobody is ready for that.

“Elections are one-offs, and [campaigns] I don’t want to risk not doing everything everywhere, “said Diana Mutz, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Because of this, the way campaigns run on ads is slow to change. But a clear shift is underway in the national races: a move away from traditional radio advertising and towards more targeted digital advertising – the equivalent of switching from a hacksaw to a scalpel.

“[TV] reaches a huge audience. But does it reach the right people? “Mutz asked. Some types of TV advertising, such as over-targeted cable advertising, are still in their infancy, but promise not to target voters just by neighborhood (places where young people, Hispanics, or low-income Voters live) but at an individual level (certain young, low-income Hispanic voters).

Online advertising also keeps this promise and is growing rapidly – far more than television. According to research firm Borrell and Associates, digital spend could top $ 1 billion in 2016, up 576 percent from 2012. In comparison, cable spend will only grow 28 percent and television broadcasts will grow 7 percent. And sooner or later that television spending could flatten or even decrease.

“TV spending will deteriorate,” predicted Kip Cassino, vice president of research at Borrell. “By 2020 you will see this type of spend that used to be spent on television. By the 2020 election, it will be a billion on television.”

And that’s perhaps the best indication of how massive ad spend on campaigns has become. Despite all the uncertainty about what TV advertising is doing, it’s actually pretty close to being “within a billion.”

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