ADD Wars

This, the first post-Citizens United American election, has been one long experiment with democracy. It’s too early to call any firm conclusions so far, and superPACs’ activities aren’t restricted to paying for advertising, but it’s becoming apparent that success cannot be measured purely in terms of the amount of money you can throw at the media.

A few days ago, The Atlantic published an article about the differing effects of the two campaigns’ advertising, citing a study by researchers Qualtrics (PDF) and Evolving Strategies:

They found that Obama’s ads were working to sway swing voters, while Romney’s were not—and the Koch Brothers-backed GOP super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, didn’t help Romney either.

The study exposed 2,300 voters to Romney and Obama ads on three themes—Medicare, economic plans, and economy-based attacks on the other candidate—as well as the Americans for Prosperity ad, “Disappointed.” A control group didn’t see any ads. All the respondents were either pure independents or weak partisans; none were strong Democrats or Republicans.

Obama’s ads overall had the desired effect: They increased his share of the vote by six points while decreasing Romney’s share of the vote by 8 points on average. Romney’s ads, meanwhile, had no statistically significant effect on the survey respondents. The survey sample began the experiment favoring Romney by a 47-42 margin; after watching both candidates’ ads, they favored Obama, 48-41.

This may go some way toward explaining the split that national pollsters are finding between the north and the south, where it looks like Romney’s winning hard in the Republicans’ southern heartland, but not so much in the swing states:

There was a silver lining for Romney, however. His ads didn’t convert swing voters, but they did persuade voters who picked John McCain in 2008 to vote for Romney this time around. Obama’s ads had no impact on his supporters’ enthusiasm.

In fact, some of these ads may be backfiring:

As for the super PAC [AFP], with friends like these, Romney may not need enemies. The Americans for Prosperity ad features testimonials from Obama voters who say the president has let them down. The study found it had no effect on the vote overall and actually hurt Romney with women voters. The only positive effect of the ad was a large increase in enthusiasm among males who voted for McCain in 2008. “Surprisingly, the ‘Disappointed’ ad is terrible as a soft-edged appeal to swing voters, but seems to be very effective red meat for male voters in Romney’s base,” the study notes.

When it comes to Web ads, the aims are different. Obviously there’s a hope that some will go viral and peel off some undecideds via social media etc., but generally they’re aimed at bolstering the base and helping GOTV efforts. With ads of the quality of this one doing the rounds, we’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out:

Posted by YAFB on 10/21/12 at 07:42 AM • Permalink

I’m very curious to see what effect all this money ends up having. I had two hunches about it: one, that there was really only so much influence to buy, only so many hours in a day of advertising and so on; two, that on the Republican side especially, a giant chunk of it would go to the usual inefficiencies of idiot nephews making “demon sheep” ads and grifters lining their pockets.

If there’s ever an audit done, which seems really unlikely, I bet they’ll find that the Republican political dollar was really poorly spent. I’ve seen speculation on other sites that CU PACs are being used purely as money laundering schemes, which is plausible, but my guess would be that they’re just stupid and greedy and turned loose like kids on an easter egg hunt.

True, Xecky—there’s also the danger of oversaturating the market with ads that just end up nagging and annoying people.

As for how they’re spending their money, I see that Mitt’s continuing to dish out sizable bonuses to his staff. I’ve playfully called it “hush money,” aimed at countering the possibility of damaging ship-jumping and revelations before the honeypot’s empty. It can hardly be a reward for competence!

Against that, there seems to be enormous creativity on the Democratic side—even some of the amateur ads I’ve seen have been fantastic (not that I’m representative of a target market, of course).

Being in NorCal I feel totally alienated from these discussions of teevee ad wars since we rarely see any presidential ads.  There’ve been a scattering of the Morgan voice-of-god Freeman telling me to vote for The Prez ads lately but haven’t seen a Rmoney ad in weeks.  Knock on wood.

I find it interesting that ad rates for superpacs are about 10 times more than for candidates.  So that’s the lease efficient way to spend ad money.

I wonder how many of these new pollsters are funded by superpac money in an effort to drive the narrative.

Nellcote—The Romney campaign’s also been very inefficient in the way it’s booked ad time, which has added to its expenses even more.

I wonder how many of these new pollsters are funded by superpac money in an effort to drive the narrative.

Indeed! One example that’s emerged is Florida-based Gravis Marketing, which some folks at Democratic Underground and Kos have been focusing on (a Google search or a sift of their headlines should show up some articles). Nate Silver refers to Gravis often and includes them in state roundups because they release “results” regularly, especially at key times such as after the first presidential debate. Given the shady backgrounds of the people running them and anomalies in some of their stats and crosstabs, it’s not even clear whether they run any polls at all rather than just making stuff up! I have no doubt there are others out there.

The Super PACs supporting Romney have been pretty unsuccessful considering how worried people were about it earlier.  I agree with Xecky and also think that, for whatever reason, the Republican Super PAC ads were targeting their base, rather than independents while the pro Obama PACs were putting out stuff like this.

This ad was devastatingly successful and there were others like it.  I think it was Obama’s campaign, not one of the PACs that put out the ad of Romney singing “America the Beautiful” while his offshore investments were pointed out but either way, the campaign ads on the Dem side have been a lot better focused on undecided voters.

probably unrelated:

The Justice Department said Wednesday that it has joined a lawsuit against The Gallup Organization alleging the polling company filed false claims on contracts with the U.S. Mint, the State Department and other government agencies.

Comment by Nellcote on 10/21/12 at 12:07 PM

probably unrelated

The lawsuit concerns whistleblowing about overcharging the administration for activities other than polling.

Of course, the RW blogs reckon it’s Chicago-style reprisal for publishing unflattering polls. I don’t know that Gallup’s any less reliable this election than it’s been in the past, but it certainly adds an interesting edge when you see them publish yet another apparent outlier!

I wonder how many of these new pollsters are funded by superpac money in an effort to drive the narrative

I do, too. Being something of a politics junkie I may overestimate how influential Nate Silver’s work was in 2008, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suppose that fakey pollsters have popped up to try to game the aggregators and provide cherry-pickable polls for liberal media to say “Romney! Even moar winninger yay!”

The thing to worry about, IMO, is that the Repubs will get better at spending their Unlimited Corporate Cash™. But for now, and likely in the near future, they’re too damn simpleminded and sticky-fingered to do a very efficient job of it.

I’m in Colorado.  MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!

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