Campaign ads do not instantly win elections


When the Supreme Court struck down the campaign finance laws regarding limits and disclosures, it ushered in some worrisome notions. Without limits and disclosures, it seems like elections and public posts can just be bought with a stash of cash. This last presidential election saw an ad blitz of great proportions. It is reason for caution but not for alarm because the ad blitz also shows that throwing money around is not the be-all-end-all to winning elections.

One aspect everyone forgets about when it comes to campaign ads is the increase of negative ads. The Wesleyan Media Project charted the increase since 2000. Their information shows that the number of negative political ads was 30 percent of the total. As of 2012 that percentage had grown to be more than 60 percent.

This upswing in negative campaign commercials just fills people with confidence, does it not? With all the negative campaign commercials, President Barack Obama and his competition, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, managed to nearly split the popular vote with a difference of 4 percent. According to the New York Times, both spent and raised over $900 million. That is almost $2 billion on a tie. Though according to a story by The Washington Post, there isn’t much of a difference of a reaction to positive and negative ads, mostly because there is no way to define a difference between the two.

In the piece by The Washington Post, they looked at debunking some myths surrounding campaign ads. One on the list was how such ads do not influence uninformed voters. The reason was that viewers react to what they care about. If they don’t care about the message, they simply don’t care to act on it. Thus only those with a vested interest would respond.

That is not to say spending on politics doesn’t pay off. The New York Times had a story called “The Moneyball of Campaign Advertising.” It lists a few instances where campaign ads, of any kind, are effective. The thing is, the list paints itself into a corner. It’s only effective if the person running is an unknown; it might work better if one candidate out spends the other, and the gains don’t last long after the ads are aired.

The article looked at the difference between former President George Bush’s campaign against Al Gore and John Kerry, as well as Obama’s race against John McCain. Bush out spent Gore in battleground states and famously launched the swift boat campaign to disparage Kerry’s service record. Obama did the same to McCain, out spending him in battleground states. The difference between the two was that Bush beat Gore and Kerry handily in those states while Obama eked out a win over McCain.

The paragon they have set forth by their own admission isn’t that straight forward. Thus it can’t be said either way with certainty that campaign ads work effectively. The best certainty was in a study by the University of Miami that you need to use less partisan attack ads or at least in moderation.

The article ends by saying perhaps the best way of describing the state of campaign advertising. There is a lot of money being spent on it but the money is just going around and around and not really being put to good use. The best one can say on the matter is if they have enough money they could almost spend the money on enough advertisements in the proper way to cover their bases as well as they are wasting it.

Patrick White is a senior in journalism and electronic media. Please send all comments to