The most recent week’s presidential advertising hasn’t changed in one key respect since my previous post: there are still more Democratic ads than Republican ads.
As I pointed out last week, Obama may have an advantage here because he is paying lower rates for his advertising than is Romney or GOP-aligned super-PACs. The important caveat, however, is that his advantage is not a large one. Moreover, because the Washington Post’s advertising data do not report when individual ads were aired within the day, we cannot easily estimate the number of people who may have seen the ad. Obviously, a buy during Sunday Night Football will reach more viewers than a buy during the average local news broadcast. And there is also reason to wonder whether, at some point, there are diminishing marginal returns to all this advertising spending.
In short, I think the Democrats’ continued advantage belies the presumption that Romney and the super-PACs would dominate the air waves. But I don’t think the Democrats’ continued advantage will necessarily win them this election.
The advertising data also provide a useful check on some conventional wisdom about candidate strategies. Take this from Politico:
With a little more than two weeks left until judgment day, Barack Obama’s campaign is embracing a fundamentally defensive strategy centered on winning Ohio at all costs…A surging Romney is suddenly playing offense all over the map.
The article goes on to assert that Obama is “is relying on a three-state solution— winning Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada puts him over the top.”
This is not reflected in how the candidates are advertising. The graph below is too small to read clearly, but click to enlarge it and you will see that Obama is not simply defending Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada. If he were, you might expect to see him pulling off the air in Florida, Virginia, and the like. He is not. Now, it may be that Obama is merely locked into using advertising time that he bought earlier. And it may be that he will lose Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia regardless. But it’s still far too early to conclude that he is conceding those states.
A better metaphor is that both candidates are on offense essentially everywhere. Here’s a graph comparing their targeting strategies in just the past week:
There is no state that one candidate appears ready to concede, with the exception of Romney and New Mexico. Both candidates are airing a similar number of ads in many states. Obama’s biggest advertising advantages are in Florida, Wisconsin, and Nevada, but he also leads Romney in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia. Romney is even with Obama on ads in North Carolina and actually opened up an advantage in ad buys in Ohio last week. Romney’s additional spending in Ohio certainly makes sense, given its status as the likely linchpin of a winning campaign.
All of this could change in the closing weeks. But it is worth noting how little has changed to this point. The Democrats have maintained a small advantage in the number of ads aired. Both Democrats and Republicans have targeted the same sets of states and in roughly equal measure. Stasis doesn’t make for an interesting narrative, but it happens to be the more accurate one.
John Sides is a professor of political science at George Washington University and a founding member of the Monkey Cage.