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New Hampshire Ad Buys And What They Reveal About Candidates

Voting booth
Chion Wolf

Presidential hopefuls have been flooding New Hampshire’s airwaves with ad buys ahead of Tuesday’s primaries. The Wesleyan Media Project in Middletown tracks political advertising in real time during elections. 

Co-director Erika Franklin Fowler spoke with Connecticut Public Radio’s Diane Orson for Morning Edition.

On the media picture in New Hampshire

Tom Steyer is blowing away the competition. He’s aired many, many more ads than the nearest competitor, which is Michael Bloomberg, and then behind him you have Bernie Sanders, followed by Andrew Yang. What we’re really seeing is evidence of self-funded campaigns. So you have two billionaires who are pouring loads of money into this campaign, driving costs up and also just blanketing airwaves.

On the wider primary strategy

You have two really interesting contrasts between Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg because Steyer is very heavily concentrating on the early states, whereas Bloomberg is almost ignoring those. Clearly he’s up in New Hampshire, but not to the extent that Tom Steyer is and he’s going everywhere else. So you have these interesting contrasts in the way in which they’re approaching the television advertising.

On the digital ad buy

Digital advertising is used for a much wider array of activity than television is. On television, you’re really reaching voters who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily be getting your information. On digital, you’re doing a combination of different things. You’re going after likely voters, who you’re trying to get to sign up for more information. So voters who may look more like the Democratic base. “Learn More! Add your name!” Do those sorts of things. Or how well do you like, how well is Donald Trump doing? These sort of one-question polls that then lead you to sign up for more information.

On choice of platform

Bloomberg and Steyer are spending much more heavily on television. That’s much more of a consequence of their trying to increase their name recognition, whereas you have Trump and Warren and Biden using digital advertising much more heavily, and I think that is in part trying to grow their lists. So there are two different activities that you have ... sort of … the television is to increase name recognition and persuade people that you are a qualified candidate for whom they should vote, whereas the digital advertising tends to be at this stage much more of a mobilization tool.

What about fakes and deep fakes?

When we’re talking disinformation, it’s using online activity. And this [is] where the transparency tools that are available now from Facebook and from Google -- they both have advertising libraries that they’re making available in real time -- is helping researchers to try to uncover some of this activity. Although I would say they’re both live databases that change and have challenges, and so it’s important that scholars not just rely on those tools but also do some tracking themselves. But I think the biggest challenge is you have so many more ads and so many more sponsors on digital advertising, and not all of these entities are easily identified through the name of their page or even the funder ... the little paid-for byline at the bottom. And so it does take a fair amount of analysis to try to understand who they are, where they come from and the investigative reporting that you would want to do.

On the continued importance of ads

Because the media environment is so fractured, I think advertising in a sense can be even more important for candidates because they have to find ways to break through to reach you where you are. We have information on spending from television, but television is a wide array of different types of activity. You can advertise on local broadcast. You can look at local cable. There are national advertising buys. Bloomberg and Trump just aired these Super Bowl ads to the tune of $10 million. And then there are satellite TV, and then you have digital and then there’s radio and other outside billboards. So candidates will find you where you are. But that’s the reason why we’re seeing an increasing diversification of the ways in which candidates are advertising.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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