A Few Consequences Of Living In A Battleground State

October 24, 2012, 10:29 PM GMT+0

We are now less than 2 weeks away from when Americans go to the polls. As we approach November 6th, an already heated battle will get even more heated. We can expect a number of four letter words to be used by the presidential candidates in the coming days, such as “Ohio” and “Iowa.” Those terms are already a common part of the political dialogue, which also includes some 8 letter words like “Colorado” and “Virginia.” It is these so called battleground states where President Obama and Governor Romney will spend nearly all their time and money. They will send all sorts of messages to voters in an effort to persuade the handful of undecideds to vote for them. Many refer to this effort as “micro-targeting.” Given the amount of money being spent and the blanketing of the airwaves, I suspect a better term would be carpet-bombing. Just ask people who live in Ohio, Florida, or New Hampshire. You cannot turn on the TV or listen to the radio without coming across the latest advertisement aired on behalf of these two contenders.

There is not, frankly, a lot of evidence that all these ads aired in battleground states are making much of a difference in who people support for president. In the Vanderbilt/You Gov Ad Rating Project, we have looked at 25 different ads over the last 3 months and only one or two have moved the dials much. But campaigns can have effects beyond just voting. Americans who live in these battleground states, which I define as OH, VA, FL, WI, IA, NH, NV, CO, may well feel under siege as the airwaves are literally clogged with advertising and with mostly negative ads. In fact, in the D.C. market the ads are coming so fast and furious that The Simpsons have been bumped to make room for more ads as Virginia remains in play. That Homer gets more than a tax cut is troubling.

Does this carpet-bombing by the two nominees and their friends (i.e. SuperPACs) influence how people think about campaigns? In particular, do citizens in battleground states have different opinions on matters such as campaign spending, advertising and the civility of the campaign? The simple answer is yes.

For starters, YouGov asked Americans whether they favored “a ban” on political advertising. About 32% of Americans favor such a ban. Whatever happened to the 1st Amendment? But this pattern varies by where you live. For those people in battleground states, the proportion increases to 43% and those in non-battleground the share falls to 28%. These differences are, just for the record, statistically significant. It seems that one consequence of seeing all those ads is that you are more likely to never want to see another political ad again! We also asked whether Americans would like to see campaign spending increased or decreased. Only a handful of Americans, regardless of state of residence, want to see spending increased (about 2%). That is not a surprise. Americans have always been worried about money spent by and on behalf of candidates. In fact, a substantial majority of Americans (58%) want to see presidential candidates spend less on campaigns. For those in battleground states, however, 66% wanted spending to decrease and just over 50% of Americans in non-battleground states. This difference in favoring less spending comes from a drop in the number of “not sures” and “neither.” In other words, living in a battleground state seems to give more Americans reason to form a clear opinion and that opinion is to be against more spending in campaigns. Finally, YouGov included a question about the civility of the campaign. About 48% of Americans judged the presidential campaign to be “uncivil” (only 8% judged it to be “civil”). Those in battleground states are more likely to think the campaign is uncivil (55%) than those in non-battleground states (45%). That gap, while not huge, surely speaks to the outpouring of negative ads in this campaign cycle.

These results show that the logic of the Electoral College does influence how Americans think about on some key issues tied campaigns. It is not that voters are changing positions about who to vote for, but they do seem to be responding in others ways to all these ads. I hardly blame the citizens in states like Ohio. It is nearly impossible for them to avoid the presidential campaign. There has been lots of speculation about whether these ads have reached a saturation point. I suspect we have reached that point. But that is only speculation. What we now know is that the being the target of all these political spots has in fact changed the reactions of Americans to what they think about campaigns. It is an institution that does not have many fans to begin with and it seems that the fan club is even thinner in the so-called battleground states.