Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Might the Trump show reveal a truth about campaigning?

Maybe, just maybe, this is going to be the year when the mythology about campaign TV ads in major contests collapses. Political TV ads are mostly a scam to make consultants rich. Marketplace ran a good explanation of this last year:

... if you’re running for office, you tend to do what your consultants tell you to do. And consultants like TV. It’s safe. In many cases, it’s what they’ve always done. And then there’s the money.

“Consultants – they have an incentive to sell TV to their candidates,” said Adam Sheingate, who teaches political science at Johns Hopkins University.

Sheingate decided to look into why we’re still seeing so many campaign ads on TV. His conclusion: “It’s the most lucrative part of the business from the consultants’ perspective. It provides the greatest opportunity to make money.”

Here’s how it works, according to Sheingate. A political candidate hires a consultant. The consultant says, let’s blanket the airwaves. The candidate says, OK. The consultant places the ads with TV stations, and takes a commission – 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the ad. That adds up.

However these ads have remarkably little impact, especially when candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton already are known quantities to most people. Political scientist Lynn Vavreck lays out what researchers have learned:

A study estimated that most of the impact of an ad in a presidential election is gone within a day or two of its airing (I am one of the authors of this paper). In governor, congressional and Senate elections, the effects last a bit longer: three or four days. Fleeting effects on campaigns have been shown by various authors in the lab; in Canada; in the 2000 and 2004 general elections; in the 2006 midterm elections; in the 2012 general election; and in field experiments in a Texas governor’s primary in 2006 and a general election in 2014.

But she then goes on to argue that candidates can't skip the air wars because ... well because the minuscule effects that have been documented might add up by November. Well maybe ...

But is TV genuinely essential in big races? Vavreck points out that Trump actually was the subject of a lot of positive TV ads during the primary. But right now, he seems to be broke. Maybe he'll create the experiment that proves the TV is just waste in a presidential cycle with well known candidates.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is blanketing the battleground states in the conventional manner.

Every single 2016 presidential TV ad currently airing in a battleground state is either from Hillary Clinton's campaign or the Democratic outside groups supporting her.

The opposition, by contrast, hasn't spent a dime in these same battlegrounds - whether it's Donald Trump's campaign or Republican-leaning Super PACs

That's a real world test of the conventional wisdom if I ever saw one. Trump must be defeated. But if his campaign revealed that a candidate can bring out his base without the airwaves, citizens spared endless repetitions of nonsense would be grateful. Not that I can imagine that consultants would ever admit this.

Ads about candidates and on subjects about which voters know little may be both informative and effective; but much candidate spending is consultant-theft from gullible clients.


Rain Trueax said...

With a lot of people not watching television and getting their news from blogs, pundits and online magazines, I wonder about the ads also-- which I find particularly annoying. I believe all the hype right now is ridiculous. It'll be the debates in the fall. We know who the establishment candidate is (from both parties), Hillary Clinton. What that means come voting is hard to say. I listened to Rachel last night for the first time in awhile. She tore into Trump over and over and ignored the stories out there questioning Hillary. I turned her off and went to watch how to choose an RV unit as frankly politics is very hard to take right now and it's all I see on MSNBC. For those who already like Hillary or are Dems, I guess it's all they want to see.

Brandon said...

I've tuned out most of the political news and jabbering about Hillary and Donald.

Classof65 said...

Unless something "Yuge" happens in a given day, it's my opinion that most of us know who we're going to vote for (or against) in the Presidential election. Some of us may still be evaluating Representatives, Senators, or local candidates, but with most of us getting our news from online rather than newspapers or television, the expense of print or TV ads is probably a waste. And it's not innovative in any way. It's the same old stuff about "he's a family man, supports pro-life, runs a farm, believes in God, loves his neighbors." Therefore, a Republican against Planned Parenthood, who is getting farm subsidies, against LGTBs, against Obamacare, against Medicaid, against food stamps, against social programs, against women's rights, for large military expenditures, but against helping veterans, against no-cost or low-cost college tuition.

Here in Kansas at least, those are the kinds of ads we'd see (if we'd bother to watch them) -- a vote for the status quo with no attention paid to wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, no interest in improving women's health care/birth control, no interest in medical marijuana, no interest in the global economy and the disappearing middle class, no interest in jobs for young people, no expansion of Social Security, and lots of interest in privatizing everything from schools to prisons to Social Security. Not a progressive idea in any way, shape or form.

Hattie said...

Those. ads do seem like a boondiggle. They have been effective in the past, such as in the ridicule of Dukakis, the swiftboating of Kerry, and the Willie Horton ads. I think Clinton campaign commercials designed to appeal to women should be very effective against Trump.

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