The ad wars: The Democratic advantage narrows

October 10, 2012

“The ad wars” is a series Wonkblog will be running semi-regularly until the election, in which George Washington University political scientist (and Monkey Cage founder) John Sides shows you what’s really happening on the airwaves.

In my last post on the presidential ad wars, I found a Democratic advantage that began during the two party conventions. New data through the week ending Oct. 7 shows that the Democratic edge persisted, although it narrowed. Last week, Democratic ads outnumbered Republican ads by about 4,500 – a third of the advantage that Democrats had during the week of the Republican National Convention.

The spending was largely coming from the candidates and independent groups, not the parties. (After a month of near-dormancy, the Republican National Committee bought about 3,300 ads last week. The Democratic National Committee has not been active in the presidential race. 

On the Democratic side, the increase was largely due to spending by Obama for America.

On the Republican side, it was due both to spending by Romney and Republican-affiliated
groups. Obama's spending advantage continues to be offset somewhat by the spending of these Republican groups:

The Democratic edge holds in most states as well. Here, I look only at ads in the past week so that the numbers reflect the most recent decisions about targeting:

Last week, Democratic ads outnumbered Republican ads in most states, including Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. There was near-parity in North Carolina and Wisconsin. The only GOP advantage was in Michigan.

Clearly the information that voters hear about Obama and Romney has a “national”
component—reflected in events like last week’s debate and the subsequent news coverage. But in the battleground states, there is a “local” component as well—one in which the Democrats have maintained an advantage. But several questions persist. One is whether this advantage can be maintained. Certainly Obama’s recent fundraising—combined with that of the DNC—suggest it could. But this current advantage isn’t enough to help him much. Previous studies have found that advertising matters in presidential races when the imbalances are larger than the slim margin separating Democrats and Republicans right now. Moreover, this advantage would need to persist. The effect of ads appears to decay quickly. For the ads to help either Obama or Romney on Nov. 6, this past week is less important than the weeks to come.

I’ll continue to update these numbers in the weeks ahead.

John Sides is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. He specializes in public opinion, voting, and American elections.
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