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The folly of election ad spending

authored by Amy Paxson

I read two articles today in the newspaper that were not related, but fascinating when you consider them in relation to each other.  The first one was about the level of spend in Massachusetts for political advertising.  With Election Day still more than six weeks away, local and national candidates and their supporters have spent about $46 million on ads in Massachusetts.  In the next six weeks, the amount of advertising is expected to be an avalanche from which we viewers can’t possibly escape.  Multiply that times 50 states and it is truly mind boggling to think about how much money is spent on wasted political ads.

Why wasted, you might ask?  That bring me to the second article, which talks about how almost no one is swayed by a political ad.  People know who they are going to vote for and that’s how they vote.  Nothing Mitt Romney says in an ad is going to all of a sudden cause an Obama supporter to vote for him.  And I’m sure the Romney supporters feel the same way about the Obama ads.  Almost no one in America changes their mind about a candidate based on political advertising.

So why run ads at all?  It is purely a defensive move.  If you don’t run any ads and your opponent spends millions on advertising, you simply disappear from the political mindset.  You’re not “campaigning,” you don’t care about the election.  You’re toast.  So you run ads to compete with the ads your opponent is running and you each try to outspend the other.  Additionally, there actually are people that can’t decide between Romney and Obama (how this is possible, I can’t imagine) or between Brown and Warren (which is a little more understandable).  This represents about 2% of the voters and that’s who all this ad spend is targeting.

Think about how much good that kind of money could do. Experts say the national total for the presidential campaign could top $3 billion dollars.  Imagine if we dumped that money into education instead?  Personally, I’m already sick of all the political ads and I don’t know anyone who wants to see more of them over the next 6 weeks.  Except the station managers at the network affiliates, who are laughing all the way to the bank.

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