Massive Ad Buys Fail to Drive Voter Turnout for Clinton

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By Madi Alexander

Nov. 16 — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton outspent now-President-elect Donald Trump on TV ads in all but six states, as well as on national networks and national cable channels, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data. It wasn’t enough.

Kantar Media collects advertising data on national networks, 25 national cable channels and the top 100 media markets. Candidates, political action committees and dark money groups have spent an estimated $1.8 billion on television ads since the beginning of the year.

The Trump campaign spent about $70.7 million in TV ads during the general election—a fraction of the nearly $193.7 million the Clinton campaign poured into the race after the primaries.

Including ad money spent during primaries, Clinton spent about $2.69 for every $1 Trump spent this year on TV ads—$245 million compared to his $91.2 million. Yet the former secretary of state lost major states like Ohio and Florida despite a heavy ad push that far exceeded that of her opponent.

According to Bruce Newman, a marketing professor at DePaul University and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Political Marketing, Hillary Clinton’s loss is partially a result of the campaign’s failure to sell voters on their message.

“Ultimately Hillary Clinton did not respond to the needs and wants of her customers,” he said. “Her customers in this case are voters.”

Newman, who once served as a communications adviser during Bill Clinton’s presidency, said all the TV marketing in the world can’t turn out voters if people don’t identify with the message.

That is evident in Hillary Clinton’s performance in key battleground states, he said, where massive ad spending didn’t do what it was intended to do—drive voters to the polls en masse to vote for Clinton.

Democratic Strongholds Swing Right

Until the week of Nov. 7, no Republican presidential candidate had taken Michigan or Wisconsin since the 1980s.

According to Newman, that is because Clinton’s team felt those states were “safe” and neglected to campaign there as much as in highly competitive states, like Pennsylvania and Florida.

President Barack Obama built a relationship with voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, Newman said, but Clinton neglected to maintain that relationship and paid a price in the end.

In Michigan, where Trump is expected to take the state’s 16 electoral votes, his campaign spent slightly more than half of what the Clinton campaign spent. (The Associated Press has not formally called the race yet because a recount remains possible, though Trump remains slightly ahead in the vote count.)

Clinton and Priorities USA Action—a Clinton-aligned super PAC—together spent $2.2 million on ads in the Great Lakes state, while Trump and the anti-abortion political action committee Right to Life of Michigan together took out around $2.1 million in ads.

Wisconsin, where President Barack Obama won in both 2008 and 2012, was one of the six states where Trump outspent the former secretary of state—but only by a half-million dollars. Trump won its 10 electoral votes with a 1 percent margin, or about 27,000 votes.

Still, Michigan and Wisconsin saw far less money being put into TV ads compared to other battleground states. The candidates spent a combined estimate of $3 million in Michigan and also in Wisconsin, a far cry from the double-digit millions spent on TV ads in other highly competitive states.

Trump Takes Swing States

In Florida, Priorities USA Action took out an estimated $24.5 million worth of TV ads, a majority of which were attack ads aimed at Trump. Clinton and her allies outspent Trump almost 4-to-1 in Florida.

The Republican candidate took out an estimated $15.5 million in ads in the Sunshine State and won the popular vote by about 120,000 votes, earning him Florida’s coveted 26 electoral votes.

Priorities USA Action also outspent both candidates in Iowa with a total of almost $5.5 million worth of ads in the general election. Yet Trump won the state and its six electoral votes by a margin of about 150,000 votes.

Clinton’s ad spending in Pennsylvania and Ohio dwarfed that of Trump. Her campaign took out more than $20 million in ads in Pennsylvania, while the Trump campaign spent less than a third of that.

Yet, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of TV advertising wasn’t enough to earn Clinton the 270 electoral votes she needed to win. Newman said he thinks that’s because too much of Clinton’s campaign strategy focused on the faults of her opponent, rather than on convincing voters she could be a more successful president.

“In all these battleground states, Hillary’s brand never resonated enough to entice people to come out and vote,” he said. “She didn’t have an underlying positive message and because of that, she fell flat. You can’t build a presidential campaign on the back of the negatives of your opponent.”

Another contributing factor, Newman said, was the amount of attention given to Trump by news outlets. With so much media attention on the former reality star and real estate mogul, the Trump campaign didn’t need to buy ads, he said.

“It’s an anomaly in the world of politics,” Newman said. “The candidate who spends more usually wins, but you can’t compare the reach of the message solely based on dollars spent.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Madi Alexander in Washington at malexander@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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