Advertising Didn’t Have Much Effect on the 2012 Election

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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?

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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