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More than $1 billion in TV ads have carpet-bombed key states

- Associated Press - Sunday, November 4, 2012

One million ads. More than $1 billion. Ten battleground states.

Those eye-popping figures tell the story of the 2012 presidential campaign TV ad blitz — never before has so much money been spent on so many commercials aimed at so few voters.

Television ads were the primary communications tool for the campaigns of President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, despite the gradual but persistent shift of viewers from television to the Internet.

While both teams maintained a robust social media presence and used online ads for micro-targeting voters based on their reading and shopping habits, nothing came close to the campaigns' investment in the kind of 30- and 60-second TV spots that have defined presidential campaigns for nearly half a century.

"The decline of television advertising hasn't happened, and it's not going away anytime soon," said Erika Franklin Fowler, director of the Wesleyan University Media Project which tracks campaign advertising. "TV is where you look for the persuadable voter, and the Internet is what you use to mobilize your base."

The two presidential campaigns, the political parties and their allied independent groups aired 1,015,615 ads from June 1 to Oct. 29, the Wesleyan project found — almost 40 percent more than the number of ads that ran in the same period in 2008, when Mr. Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain for the presidency.

The proliferation of campaign commercials was fueled by an unprecedented level of spending. The candidates, parties and groups spent more than $1.08 billion total on commercials since April, according to data compiled by media trackers and provided to The Associated Press.

But the ads were directed at an ever-shrinking universe of voters.

Nine states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — saw the vast majority of the campaign spots, with Pennsylvania emerging late in the campaign as an advertising battleground as well.

Both sides also made smaller buys in Democratic-leaning Michigan and Minnesota, but did little else to suggest either state was seriously in play.

It's a sharp drop from 2008, when those states along with New Mexico, Missouri, Indiana, Montana, Georgia and North Dakota were considered battlegrounds and saw a heavy round of campaign commercials from the candidates and independent groups alike. This year, almost no one outside of the 10 major swing states has seen a presidential campaign ad except for a few national cable and broadcast buys.

"Fewer people are witnessing the onslaught than ever before. The ones that are are getting carpet bombed," Ms. Fowler said.

A newly empowered spate of independent groups helped contribute to the glut, investing millions in their own TV advertising to influence the 2012 contest.

A series of federal court rulings, including the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010, significantly eased campaign finance regulations, freeing corporations and wealthy individuals to spend money to influence politics.

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