Glut of TV campaign ads for 2012 election far ahead of 2008’s

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One of American democracy’s most annoying sideshows — campaign TV commercials — abruptly will end in less than two weeks on Election Day, but not before setting some all-time records.

More than 915,000 presidential campaign ads have run on broadcast and national cable television from June 1 through Sunday, according to a study by the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising in federal elections. That’s a 44.5 percent increase from the 637,000 presidential ads that ran during the same period in 2008 and a 43.7 percent increase in ads compared with 2004.

And the frequency of ads isn’t expected to let up in the final days of the campaign.

“When all is said and done, 2012 will go down as a record-pulverizing year for political advertising,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “We’ve already surpassed the total number of presidential ads aired during the entire 2008 campaign — and we still have two weeks to go before Election Day.”

As Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney surged in the polls after the first presidential debate Oct. 3, the tone of President Obama’s ads during the first three weeks of the month was decidedly negative — 73 percent — which was more than twice the rate of Mr. Romney’s negative ads, the study showed.

About 6 percent of the president’s ads during the same time period were deemed positive by Wesleyan, compared with 12 percent for Mr. Romney. And pro-Obama outside groups didn’t run a single positive ad, although only about 1 percent of Romney-friendly outside groups ran positive ads.

Mr. Romney and his allies have spent more than $87 million in campaign advertising during the first three weeks of October, the report said. That’s more than double the amount spent on TV ads supporting 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain during the same time period.

Mr. Obama and his allies, meanwhile, spent almost $77.5 million on ads from Oct. 1-21 — about $8.6 million less than during the same time period of Mr. Obama’s initial run for the White House four years ago.

Another big change since 2008 involves the sponsorship of presidential race advertising. During the first three weeks of October, GOP-friendly outside groups — including political action committees and so-called super PACs — are estimated to have spent 954 percent more on advertising than during the same time period four years ago, while Democratic-friendly outside groups increased their spending by about 438 percent, the Wesleyan Media Project says.

Yet in spite of the Republican’s spending advantage, the president and his allies have maintained an advantage in the number of ads aired. More than 112,000 pro-Obama ads aired in the last three weeks of this month, compared to 97,000 for Mr. Romney.

“There was a lot of talk that Romney and his allies were hoarding resources for a major ad push in the closing moments of the campaign,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “This was supposed to counteract the Obama advantage in ads aired throughout the earlier part of the general election campaign. We just haven’t seen that to date on local broadcast (ad counts). And time is running out.”

It remains to be seen how effective the ads will be.

Almost 60 percent of likely voters said they watch 10 or fewer political TV ads a night, according to results of a Washington Times/Zogby Poll released Sunday.

About 30 percent of the survey’s respondents said the most memorable political ad they’ve seen this year was a pro-Obama spot, while almost 18 percent chose a pro-Romney ad. About 23 said the most memorable ad they’ve seen supported another candidate, a union or another interest group. But about 30 percent said they weren’t sure.

Presidential ads have been concentrated in fewer markets than 2008, meaning that a smaller number of potential voters have been exposed to them, the report says.

Denver has been the recent epicenter of presidential advertising, with 9,950 ads from Oct. 1-21, outpacing second-place Las Vegas with 8,057 ads. Tampa, Fla., Cleveland and Orlando, Fla., round out the top five.

The study also showed a drop in presidential advertising through large swaths of the country this year compared with the 2008 presidential election year, most notably in Missouri, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota. Ad volumes in Michigan and Minnesota also have declined some, while advertising has increased in battleground states such as Nevada, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia.

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