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Campaign Ad Watch

July 19, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: A record $200 million has been spent already this year on television advertising by the campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. A new study of this spending shows the two campaigns are targeting the same 17 to 20 battleground states, but very different demographic groups of voters within them.

Joining us is the study’s author Ken Goldstein, associate professor of political science and director of the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. That project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which also contributes to the NewsHour’s media unit. Ken Goldstein, welcome.

This is, I gather, perhaps the most extensive survey you’ve done or that’s been done of presidential campaign spending?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. We’re real excited to be working with Nielsen Monitor Plus, and we’re able to cover advertising in all 210 markets in the country.

TERENCE SMITH: And yet as we– and we have a map that shows this– they are concentrated, this advertising, in the so-called battleground states. Tell us about that.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Right. This presidential election is being concentrated on 19, 20 battleground states. There’s 210 media markets in the United States and we’re seeing advertising in only 93 of those media markets, and that translates into only 40 percent of Americans being potentially exposed to television advertising and 60 percent of Americans, those Americans who live in big states like California, Texas and New York, not seeing any political advertising at all.

TERENCE SMITH: And I take it within the battleground states there are some that are more concentrated than others?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. The variance in the targeting actually surprised me a little. You have battleground states and then have you the battleground of the battleground states, and those are states like Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida — that have the heaviest, heaviest amounts of advertising.

And even when you go within those states you actually see some differences in the targeting patterns of the two campaigns. For instance, when the Bush campaign decides to target a state, they go into every media market at virtually the same level within that state, where when the Kerry campaign targets a state, they’ll go into media markets at different levels.

TERENCE SMITH: What do you mean by different levels?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Well, the Kerry campaign might put more ads in Cleveland than Dayton, might put more ads in Dayton than Zanesville, or Lima, Ohio. Whereas if the Bush campaign goes into Ohio, they’re putting the same amount of points, the same amount of spots aired in just about every single market.

TERENCE SMITH: A fascinating part of this study is the different shows that the two campaigns choose to advertise in. And I wonder whether it’s possible, do you think, to divine the strategy of these campaigns through where they place their ads?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. That’s one of the neat things about studying political advertising, although I’m a little biased about that. It can sort of provide us with a window into the war rooms, into the brains of the campaign strategists of each campaign. And we already talked about how the campaigns might differ a little bit and who they’re targeting at the market level geographically.

But the campaigns also differ somewhat in who they are targeting within the markets; that is, what shows they are choosing to advertise on. Now most campaigns — or both campaigns — are targeting a huge number of resources at local news and news shows and the morning cut-ins on morning news shows. But at the margins, there are differences.

So for instance, the Kerry campaign is more likely to put its ads on a show like Judge Judy, which is targeted at women and older women, and where the Bush campaign differs a bit from the Kerry campaign is the Bush campaign is more likely to put ads on shows like Law and Order, NYPD Blue, Jag, shows that tend to target men and younger men.

TERENCE SMITH: Well, explain that. Is it that they are reinforcing what they perceive to be the base, or is it that they’re reaching out to groups that may not be in their column?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think they’re trying to do both with political advertising. And one thing to remember, we said that 40 percent of the country is being potentially exposed to advertising. There might be five percent of that 40 percent that’s actually undecided. So we’re talking about maybe two, two and a half percent of the voters in the country are actually persuadable in this race. And so you have a lot of advertising aired at those people. But the other point you brought it is also a correct one.

Candidates are certainly going after the undecideds, and we’re going to hear a ton about them in swing states, but the campaigns also have a little bit of shoring up to do on their base. George Bush knows he’s going to get the support of 90-plus percent of Republicans, but he wants to make sure he maximizes that support and he wants to make sure those potential and likely Republican voters go to the polls and the same thing with the Kerry campaign. And, interestingly, on the Kerry campaign, the Kerry campaign just made a significant buy, over $2 million, targeted at African-American audiences. So it’s a sign they’re trying to shore up their base there a bit as well.

TERENCE SMITH: There was also another intriguing difference in the study, in that the different campaigns chose different late- night comedy shows to advertise. I mean, explain that. Tell me what they are, and explain it if you can.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. The Democrats are more likely to be on Letterman and the Republicans were more likely to be on some of the other late- night shows. Hard for me to explain there, but maybe the Democrats think that they have a more hip, young audience that they’re more likely voters on something like Letterman.

TERENCE SMITH: And yet across the board, from your study, it seems that both campaigns choose older voters over younger voters, women over men?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Absolutely…

TERENCE SMITH: Right. So there’s where they’re going with their money, with their campaigning, and with their solicitation of votes.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: It’s the conventional wisdom, although I haven’t seen any empirical evidence on it from campaign consultants, is that women are more likely to decide late in the campaign and are more likely to be undecided. We also know with tons and tons of geeky political science evidence that older voters are much more likely to vote.

So when campaigns have choices to make about how to target their resources, they’re more likely to target them at the most likely voters. So even when we see the campaigns both targeting news, but we also see them targeting shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and actually Wheel of Fortune is the top- rated non-news show in terms of drawing television advertising, and both of those are shows that are close to prime time, so give a little bit of a different audience than local news, but they’re also shows, those game shows that tend to skew a little bit older.

TERENCE SMITH: And so there they go, looking for that again.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: There they go.

TERENCE SMITH: Do the campaigns tailor the ads differently in different markets and in different states?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: When I started studying advertising a couple years ago, I expected that there would be a lot more tailoring of spots from state to state and market to market, and really have not seen that very much in the past and we’re not seeing too much of that this year. You don’t see a special ad for Arizona, a special ad for West Virginia, a special ad for Ohio. We may see that a little bit down the line. But in the data I’ve looked at in the last couple of electoral cycles and the data that we’re seeing so far in this electoral cycle, campaigns tend to go in with the same messages and the same mix of messages in markets across the entire country.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, well, it’s only July, and we’re $200 million in. Ken Goldstein, thank you very much.