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Articles by Donald E. L. Johnson

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Are Coloradans tuning out $30 million in attack ads aimed at Ken Buck, Michael Bennet?

Independent groups supporting Republican Ken Buck and Democrat Michael Bennet are spending $15 million or more on each candidate. They're running so many attack ads that some think voters are tuning the ads out. Recent polls show the candidates are in a statistical tie and that, so far, the ads aren't giving either candidate for the U.S. Senate a big advantage. This is no surprise to readers of the book Freakonomics, which says that when candidates are equally well-known as Buck and Bennet are, money doesn't decide an election.

Buck and Bennet have together so far spent $4 million, and outside groups have poured $23 million into their campaigns, which have another 10 days to go, reports Stephanie Simon. Outside 527s, unions and business groups are putting more money into Colorado than they are putting in any other state. One reason is that about 79% of Colorado's voters are concentrated on the Front Range, and Denver's TV stations reach 96% of voters through cable, making the ads fairly cost effective.

Ads take time to make their sells. Only a small part of a target audience sees an ad the first time it runs, and an ad may not register until it's been viewed several times. Viewers don't tune out ads until they've really absorbed the messages. 

Political ads usually are somewhat nullified by ads from opponents. What negative ads do is give voters information they wouldn't have without the ads. Yes, the ads are frequently misleading and even tell lies, but they all contain an element of truth. And because candidates who are equally funded and evenly matched in debates as Buck and Bennet are can fight back against negative ads with their own negative ads, voters learn enough to make better decisions than they would if the ads didn't run.

This is why the more money put into political ads the better the outcome of the election. If the ads aren't changing the polls much, it is because the voters are pretty evenly split on the major issues and on their opinions of the candidates. Neither candidate is particularly charismatic.

Neither guy is Obamaising the electorate in 2010. They're both John McCains. Colorado voters are as divided as the country and as Washington is.

We're in our own gridlock.


Campaigns find diminishing returns, by Stephanie Simon. (Subscription required or buy today's Wall Street Journal at Starbucks or King Soopers.)

Outside spending totaled in real time, Sunlight Foundation.

Posted by Donald E. L. Johnson on 10/23/2010 at 07:17 AM


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