Now that the dust of the 2016 election has finally settled, and a new President and Congress have taken office, campaign strategists may have had a small opportunity to relax…and begin planning for the 2018 elections.
In 2018, control of the Senate will once again be contested, with 34 seats up for grabs. If this last cycle was any indication, next year could break another record for campaign spending. And in addition to the entire House of Representatives standing for reelection, 36 states will have statewide gubernatorial elections. With such a high stakes and active campaign season, reaching voters and effectively influencing their opinions will be critical.
A groundbreaking report released earlier this month by the Wesleyan Media Project confirms two key narratives that political professionals have known for a long time: Message matters, and TV remains a critical driver of voter behavior. In analyzing Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton, the Wesleyan report found that “the content of Clinton’s ads and her failure to advertise early in key states may be as important factors in her loss as Trump’s novel approach to TV advertising and social media.” Hillary Clinton’s loss, the report’s authors say, can be attributed to strategic decisions in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, “where she only began to advertise heavily in the week before the election.”
Given TV’s influential role in driving political outcomes, and where the ad dollars flowed in the late stages of the 2016 presidential and Senate races, candidates in tough races should once again be looking to local broadcast TV to shape their messages and persuade voters at the polls.
That’s because local broadcast TV reaches more people in one day than any other platform and remains consumers’ medium of choice, making it a campaign’s most effective and powerful marketing tool. In fact, Nielsen's latest Total Audience Report (Q3 2016) shows that adults continue to watch more than twice as much TV each week compared with the second and third most watched media platforms. Also, TV dominates video viewing at 93 percent, compared with watching video on the internet (5 percent) or on a smartphone (2 percent). While political campaigns must make effective use of all advertising platforms, if a campaign’s goal is to get their ads in front of the most voters, TV remains the go to platform.
However, TV isn’t just the dominant platform when it comes to audience. It’s also the most influential medium. In a recent Morning Consult poll in 10 swing states, almost 60 percent of voters named TV as the top influencer of their voting decisions over all other platforms including digital, radio, and mail. The survey also found that 71% of voters said that TV caused them to become more aware of a candidate or issue. This isn’t surprising considering far more voters (86 percent) saw a political ad on TV vs. digital (41 percent). Another study, by the Video Advertising Bureau, revealed that 79% of undecided voters said TV advertising was most likely to attract their attention, and more than half said that TV was the biggest influencer of their ultimate voting decision.
Finally, the recent presidential election only confirmed the power of political advertising on TV, with ads providing President Trump with a much needed boost in the final weeks. In the last 10 days of the election, President Trump spent $24 million on TV ads. A Hudson Institute analysis found that during the campaign, President Trump gained ground in polls when he increased his TV advertising. This further confirms why winning campaigns spend a majority of their ad dollars on local broadcast TV. Its widespread use and favorability, combined with its impact on voters, makes TV the most valuable platform for candidates.
What we saw in 2016, especially in the Senate races, will hold true as the 2018 cycle kicks into gear: No other medium can compete with local broadcast TV in terms of reach, influence and effectiveness. In yet another election season where control of the federal government hangs in the balance, as well as more than two thirds of our State Houses, campaign professionals should keep this data in mind as they are planning their advertising strategies.