If you’re annoyed by the vortex of political hype, misinformation and just pure bullshit inundating your life please be aware: it’s about to get much worse.
As we enter the general election season most Agitator readers unfortunate enough to live in “battleground states” will be increasingly inundated through all channels—tv, email, social media, radio, telephone, mailbox and even your front doorbell—in the unrelenting torrent of political advertising to win your vote in November.
Annoying? Yes. Expensive? Absolutely. Effective? No.
Despite its annoyance, and the proven ineffectiveness of most political advertising the experts predict around $16 Billion will be spent in the 2024 elections. Consultants, media buyers rejoice!
Of course, as in every trade—including issue advocacy and fundraising– most “experts” will continue recommending the same approaches used in the last election cycle. Afterall, to quote Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Kathryn Schulz, “until we know we know we are wrong, wrong feels exactly like being right.”
Today we’re calling attention to a stunning new work that’s a must read for every political strategist. Every political digital practitioner. And every direct mail, tv, radio, and canvassing practitioner. In addition, readers who aren’t in the election campaign business will benefit enormously from reading and heeding the advice in both Kevin’s posts and this new book.
Hal, whom I’ve long admired and who’s been inducted into the Association of American Political Consultant’s Hall of Fame, isn’t your normal political consultant. His career is marked by decades of successful direct mail fundraising for progressive advocacy causes and political candidates. Not content with that success he shook up the political world with a pioneering book– The New Political Targeting –that helped transform how campaigns target voters.
Perhaps most significant is that Hal not only knows his stuff, but he also understands the “insiders” game and isn’t afraid to shine a light on the slothful, ossified practices of the political consulting trade. In fact, so many of their unproductive practices are exposed in his new book many will want to run him out of Washington, D.C. on a rail.
Fortunately, Hal now lives in Santa Fe where he also successfully writes fantasy novels for young adults as well as political thrillers like the acclaimed No Popes in Heaven, a dark, satirical look on how the brilliant vision of our Founding Fathers has been corrupted and bent to the wills of a powerful few.
Hal’s new book, Reinventing Political Advertising, demonstrates how poorly our political advertising is working and provides a data-based agenda for how Democrats can better persuade voters and win more elections. [Agitator Note: The book also contains a wealth of insight and practical suggestions for those who aren’t engaged in party politics but do work in issue advocacy.]
A few highlights from Reinventing Political Advertising
The Low Information Voter: For years campaigns have asked which voters are undecided? But many undecided voters will not be influenced by advertising at all. The more important question is which voters are more likely to be moved by these ads. Academic studies and control group experiments provide an emphatic answer. Movement in response to adverting takes place almost entirely among the least informed voters.
In one experiment conducted by the National Education Association, voters who did not know which party-controlled congress, were thirty-one times more likely to be moved by ads. Yet almost 60% of Democratic TV ads are placed on news programming reaching the exact audience least likely to change their votes.
Candidates v. Party: In the 2000 elections more than a third of all voters split their tickets, voting for candidates of both parties. In the 2020 elections 89% of voters voted a straight party ticket. If nine out of ten voters are choosing parties rather than candidates, why are almost 100% of the Democratic party’s ads about candidates. As the Republican Party moves further and further from mainstream beliefs, the Democrats are forfeiting a huge opportunity to reshape the electorate and win elections, not just in 2024 but far into the future.
Making Our Ads More Effective: Studies show that political ads have small impacts and, sometimes, no impact at all. A landmark study that looked at 49 control group experiments measuring the impact of persuasion advertising in all its forms, concludes that in general elections the effect size of these ads was zero.
There are ads that work but we need to rethink how we present information and change voters’ minds. Gallup polling on party affiliation suggests that news events have an outsized impact on a voter’s choice of parties. Why not run ads throughout the election cycle that boost favorable news and fill in details that voters are likely to miss.
How many voters know that every single Republican in Congress voted against Biden’s measures to slow climate change. In a breakthrough mail experiment the Center for Voter Information sent a mailing that did not endorse either candidate, instead providing only a clinically stated issue comparison. This tactic far outperformed standard political mail using the same issues. Why has this successful strategy not been tested on television?
If you believe that political advertising is working just fine, then ignore this post. But if you believe voters—and/or many of the constituencies your own organization wants to enlist– then it’s time to rethink how we communicate. And it’s time to buy this book.
Reinventing Political Advertising contains not only a far-reaching agenda that can change our election outcomes but hosts a treasure trove of practical ideas to help you advance your own communications and fundraising efforts.