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Power of TV political ads limited, Iowa State report says

(FILE) Cheryl Scungio, in the gray suit, and Leslie Luxemburg portray a doctor and her patient for a scene of stock footage filmed by Mark Kokkoros, left. Generic scenes such as these are a staple of political ads. (Washington Post)
(FILE) Cheryl Scungio, in the gray suit, and Leslie Luxemburg portray a doctor and her patient for a scene of stock footage filmed by Mark Kokkoros, left. Generic scenes such as these are a staple of political ads. (Washington Post)

The political advertising on your television right now is relentless.

Those campaign ads can appear to be effective, but they cannot buy an election, a new Iowa State University study suggests.

The study examined campaign ads leading up to the 2016 Iowa caucuses and found the candidates who spent more on television advertising generally received more support on caucus night. But that does not prove that’s what caused them to get more support, said Jay Newell, an associate professor of advertising in ISU’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication.

“We think political advertising is all-powerful, but it’s not,” Newell said in a news release accompanying the report. “Candidates who buy the most ads tend to get the most votes, but that could be drawing conclusions from coincidence. Those leading in the polls get more resources. So the additional advertising being purchased is essentially insurance and not as much to move the meter.”

The research noted not all candidates who spent big on advertising were successful in the Iowa caucuses. The second-highest spender in the Republican caucuses was Jeb Bush; the $9.1 million he spent on TV ads yielded just 3 percent of the support on caucus night.

Top spender Marco Rubio — at $9.3 million — finished third in the GOP caucuses. But Rubio spent considerably more than the top two caucus performers — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump — combined.

Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton spent $2.3 million more than Bernie Sanders but eked out a historically narrow victory over Sanders on caucus night.

“Advertising effects, even when candidates are shoveling in as much advertising as possible, are still fairly mild,” Newell said. “Commercial advertisers have known this for decades. There’s just not enough advertising in the world to buy market share.”

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A total of $46.3 million was spent on campaign ads during the caucus cycle, according to the report, $20 million of which was spent in the Des Moines market.

GUBERNATORIAL RACE RATING

The data-driven journalists at FiveThirtyEight.com rate Iowa’s gubernatorial race “likely Democratic” and give Democrat Fred Hubbell an 85 percent chance of winning.

Most people following the race likely will say that seems awfully high. A recent Iowa Poll showed Hubbell holding a narrow, 2-point edge over Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, well within the poll’s margin for error.

But FiveThirtyEight’s probability model gives Hubbell a 6 in 7 chance of unseating Reynolds.

IOWA NOT POLITICALLY ENGAGED?

Speaking of secret data sauce, the folks at WalletHub developed a scoring system to produce the most- and least-politically engaged states, and somehow Iowa was below average: 33rd nationally.

The first-in-the-nation caucus state that forges presidents is only the 33rd-most politically engaged state in the union? That’s not just strange; it’s borderline heresy.

WalletHub’s metrics include percentages of registered voters and turnout rates, political contributions, voter accessibility policies and political campaign volunteer opportunities.

BIG-NAME DEMOCRATS

Throughout the summer, it was a mystery as to when the big-name national Democrats would make their way to Iowa to help out midterm election candidates — and raise their own profile for possible presidential runs.

After a multiple-months drought, the dam has burst.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey was here recently to speak at the state party’s fall fundraiser and stump for state candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was here this weekend helping out 4th District Democratic candidate J.D. Scholten. And U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California is coming this week.

Your move, Joe Biden.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy

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