For Your Viewing Pleasure: Television Ad Spending Now Online

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

The Virginia Public Access Project has begun publishing this campaign season a new data set for Virginia congressional elections — television ad spending. You can view total spending for the campaign to date, as I show here with the hotly contested Comstock/Wexton and Brat/Spanberger races. Or, if you’re a total junky, you can check the weekly updates.

The biggest-spending race involves 10th district Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock and her Democratic challenger, Jennifer Wexton. To reach 10th district voters, advertisers have to buy air time in the super-expensive Washington media market. It is interesting to note that more money has been spent on television advertising than the campaigns have reported raising. That’s because most of the ads are being purchased by outside, non-campaign-affiliated groups — just one more way that big money can influence politics by means other than donating to political campaigns directly.

Thank you, VPAP, for this making available enhanced contribution to campaign-finance transparency.

The second most expensive race is the Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine and Republican challenger Corey Stewart. From a money perspective, that campaign is a joke. Kaine has spent $4.2 million so far on television ads (all his own campaign’s money) versus 0 for Stewart. That’s not a contest, it’s a stomping. Like President Trump whom he emulates, Stewart is the non-Establishment candidate — and his pitiful fund-raising record shows it. But he lacks candidate Trump’s knack for generating unlimited free air time and press coverage. Only his more reckless and indefensible statements generate attention. Stewart is more doomed than the Titanic.

Then there’s the 2nd congressional campaign in my back door between Republican incumbent Dave Brat, who famously upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a few years back, and his Democratic challenger Abigail Spanberger. Spanberger has spent more money on television advertising overall than Brat, all of it coming from her own campaign resources. But Brat and anti-Spanberger groups have come on strong in recent weeks.

While the VPAP data adds a new dimension to campaign analysis, it leaves unanswered an increasingly relevant question: How effective is television advertising? Campaigns and outside groups spend massive sums, but in the age of Social Media it’s not at all clear that the ads move voters.

The conventional wisdom is that attack ads are more effective than positive ads. But I think that positive ads can be useful in building name recognition for a new, unknown candidate. As for attack ads, I ignore¬†them or discount them entirely. Any time I see an attack ad, I don’t gasp, thinking, how could candidate X have done or said such a thing? Rather, I ask myself, “How is this ad distorting the truth or omitting context?” I suspect most other voters do the same.

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

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2 responses to “For Your Viewing Pleasure: Television Ad Spending Now Online

  1. re: attack ADs – done by outside groups with anonymous donors….and called “free speech”

    • Agreed. Hate the loophole. Both sides shamelessly do this. Needs to be changed for everybody.

      And of course this focuses on what the media loves, the “process” or “horse race” story, which always takes attention away from any in depth discussion of unimportant things like, oh say, issues, qualifications, actual voting records. Digging into those is hard work. Writing about who has more money and ads, that’s easy. Until a poll comes out and that’s the story for a while. (And in truth, few of the lazy voters will actually read 1,000 words on the candidates’ platforms and records.)

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