Advertising Didn’t Have Much Effect on the 2012 Election

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Over at the Monkey Cage, Michael Franz has an interesting postmortem on the effect of TV advertising during the 2012 presidential election. He uses a clever design that takes advantage of the fact that ads in battleground states sometimes bleed over the border into non-battleground states, producing a random set of non-battleground voters who are exposed to large numbers of ads.

Franz’s bottom line is simple: advertising didn’t have much effect in 2012. The maximum effect—that is, the effect of swapping the market with the biggest Democratic ad advantage to the one with the biggest Republican ad advantage—is about 1 percentage point of the vote share. The effect is bigger if you look solely at ads in the final two months, but not a lot bigger. And this is the biggest possible effect. In more likely scenarios, where one side or the other out-advertised the other by a fairly normal amount, the effect is a few tenths of a percentage point.

This doesn’t mean ads don’t matter. What it means is that (a) they largely cancel each other out, and (b) there’s probably a saturation point above which they have diminishing returns. It’s also likely that ads have less impact in an election featuring a well-known incumbent (ads were apparently more effective in 2008 than in either 2004 or 2012). Nonetheless, this fits with other data suggesting that 2012 was a very fundamentals-driven election. Obama’s superior organization might have made a difference at the margins, but only a small difference. This cake was pretty much fully baked before the Republican Party even agreed on a nominee.

POSTSCRIPT: As clever as this study design is, I do wonder if it’s possible that battleground-state voters respond differently to ads than non-battleground-state voters. Perhaps there’s an interaction between ads and all the other stuff going on in battleground states that makes them more effective than in other places?

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate