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Battleground State Ad Spending - Clinton vs. Trump - NBC

Presidential Election 2016: What Political Ad Spending Is Telling Us

At this early stage, political ad spending by the Clinton and Trump campaign’s is telling us a great deal, especially when we feed it into what we generally know about the election to date.

Let’s take a look at some of the data.

A recent Quinnipiac Poll has Trump ahead of Clinton by 2 points in Pennsylvania, which has a chance to be a key battleground state – unlike in previous elections. The data is within the margin of error. But the real issue is that Clinton has outspent Trump 9 to 1.

Quinnipiac and JMC Analytics also have Trump leading Clinton in Florida by small margins (again – within the margin of error). The spending difference in Florida is even more stark – with Clinton outspending Trump by over $13.1 million, or 275 to 2.

In Ohio, NBC/WSJ/Marist and Quinnipiac both have the race tied. In that state, Clinton has outspent Trump by $9.2 million, or by a ratio of 97 to 5.

Similar results are being seen all over the country – in states that have been traditional battleground states, as well as those who have not been battleground states and were seen as a solid Democratic states.

The chart below from SMG Data paints the picture.

Battleground State Ad Spending - Clinton vs. Trump - NBC

The results have caused some panic in Democratic party circles, and with good reason. Overall, Clinton has outspent Trump $57 million to around $3.6 million, according to NBC news. In fact, making the data even worse for the Clinton campaign is that the $3.6 million has not even come directly from the Trump campaign, but from two outside groups. The campaign has not spent ANY money on mass media or digital advertising yet.

Overall, the data is telling us some interesting things – especially when we add in some other factors we generally know from the election to this point:

  1. Clinton’s advertising campaigns have not helped her to create distance from Trump. Not only has Trump stayed within striking distance, he has actually made gains despite not spending any money on mass media and digital advertising.
  2. Voter fatigue with “politics as usual” and the general dislike of both the candidates has meant that advertising at this stage is doing little to improve perceptions of the candidates. In fact, in Clinton’s case, it may be doing more harm than good. The more people are exposed to Clinton’s campaign ads (positive for her and negative towards Trump), the more they move away from her campaign.
  3. In Trump’s case, he has relied solely on some limited free mass media that he has generated from his Vice Presidential candidate selection process. Though the media is overwhelmingly negative towards his campaign, Trump has improved his positive perception and qualifications with voters without running any advertising. In fact, a recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that voters rate both candidates as equally qualified. In fact, Clinton has dropped from 50% to 41% in that polling, and Trump has risen from 27% to 40%. That is a significant swing for both candidates, and demonstrates that Trump’s overall strategy may be more effective than Clinton’s.

In short, Clinton is clearly continuing to experience problems resonating with voters. A significant number of voters do not find her trustworthy. She has trouble connecting with voters. And her campaign slogans are simply not effective.

The Clinton camp does recognize that voter sentiment is largely against establishment candidates and institutions. It is good that the Clinton campaign recognizes it. However, the campaign’s core message has always been to focus on Clinton’s experience. And based on recent polling, voters are clearly deciding that she does not necessarily have the experience to be President (or the experience they are looking for). With the anti-establishment mood among voters, it is not clear how the Clinton campaign can pivot to find a message that resonates with voters.

In fact, Clinton’s recent attempts have backfired. Clinton’s comments about how whites need to listen more to the concern of black Americans came at a time when most people see race relations getting worse, not better, and immediately following the murder of 5 white police officers. It was a well-meaning attempt to connect on an important social issue, but her timing and lack of balance in her remarks were nothing short of politically tone deaf. Her standing with white voters in the polls, especially white men, took a significant hit.

Other efforts to appear as the candidate for the poor and middle class also have failed, especially in light of her taking millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street banks and investment firms. Her lack of willingness to release copies of the speeches, her changing stories, and her weak response of, “That’s what they offered,”  in response to CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s question about her decision to accept $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, only reinforce her image as a deceptive person who lacks a genuine personality voters can relate to.

Overall, there are two big things to look out for over the coming weeks:

  1. What is the general mood of the electorate following the conventions about the two candidates?
  2. When Trump starts to advertise, which direction does he go? Is he more positive or negative in his campaign ads? To this point, reducing his exposure to voters has worked to his advantage. When does he increase his profile through advertising? And will he match Clinton in tone (which could push voters towards third party options and reduce his standing in the polls), or will he be overwhelmingly positive and start to demonstrate he is a more credible and viable candidate to voters?
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