“Baskets full of deplorables” unmoved by massive advertising expenditures
The 2016 presidential election was, by almost any measure, unconventional and unique. The Democrats’ unfathomable decision to run Hillary Clinton, a woman whose deep and abiding unpopularity among many Americans goes back to the 1990’s and HillaryCare—an antipathy that resurfaced when ObamaCare became the focus of the Obama administration, will go down in history as a world-class blunder.
A new study of the usefulness and effectiveness of advertising in presidential campaigns addresses the unique nature of the 2016 presidential election and offers insight into the catastrophic failure of the Democrats generally and of Hillary in particular.
The 2016 presidential campaign broke the mold when it comes to patterns of political advertising.
. . . . The article published in The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics (open access through mid-April 2017) shows that the presidential race featured far less advertising than the previous cycle, a huge imbalance in the number of ads across candidates, and one candidate who almost ignored discussions of policy. . . . The authors share lessons about advertising in the 2016 campaign, and argue that its seeming lack of effectiveness may owe to the unusual nature of the presidential campaign with one nonconventional candidate and the other using an unconventional message strategy.
Furthermore, the authors demonstrate that:
1) Clinton’s unexpected losses came in states in which she failed to air ads until the last week.
2) Clinton’s message was devoid of policy discussions in a way not seen in the previous four presidential contests.
Other big lessons drawn in the paper include:
- The impact of advertising may depend on the larger media environment and knowledge of the candidates. Ie. It’s much more difficult for advertising to have an impact in a media environment that is saturated with sensational media coverage of the campaign—and of two already well-known candidates—but that does not mean that all advertising fails to work
- Message matters, and a message repeated endlessly does no good unless it resonates with a sufficient number of the right voters. Team Clinton’s message that Trump was unfit for the presidency may not have been enough
- What happens at the presidential level does not always follow down ballot.
You can read the full study here.
What strikes me about this study is that it essentially supports the findings of the gender-reversed presidential debate experiment that Kemberlee blogged about. The general feeling among the left that Hillary was better than she was simply because she is a woman seeps into advertising outcomes as well.
Clinton’s focus not on policy or her fitness for the highest office in the land was subsumed by her barrage of attacks on Trump and on his “basket of deplorables” supporters. The negativity, however, was all but missed by her supporters, but it drowned out anything remotely positive about her potential presidency for everyone else.
In fact, the study found that more than 60 percent of Clinton’s ads focused on personally attacking Trump and his fitness for the White House rather than the policy differences between the two candidates. Trump, on the other hand, focused more than 70 percent of his ads on the policy differences between him and his opponent, while only spending about 10 percent of advertising time on personally attacking Clinton.
To put that in perspective, each major presidential candidate of the previous four presidential elections going back to 2000 — with the exception of Sen. John McCain in 2008 — focused at least 60 percent of their advertising on drawing policy contrasts with their opponent.
Clinton outspent Trump in advertising by $116 million in June of 2016, and in the final weeks of the race, when Trump’s team unleashed an ad blitz primarily in rustbelt states, outspent him by “$2.1 million, and her national spots aired almost two and a half times as often as Trump’s did.”
None of it mattered, however. This study’s authors suggest that the results were anomalous and don’t indicate that a new trend in political advertising is warranted. Maybe. Yet the result seems to indicate instead that having a clear message that resonates with the people will carry one far further than an impressive war chest and massive outputs in advertising for a flawed candidate with no message.