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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, January 7, 2014

SUMMING UP 2013 ACA ADVERTISING. Reports from federal and various state sources suggest spiking health insurance enrollment in December as those who are newly eligible or re-eligible sought coverage by January 1. How big a role did advertising play in encouraging—or in the case of political advertising, discouraging—sign-ups? While there’s no way to know for sure, these data visualizations from Kantar Media CMAG’s Harley Ellenberger provide some hints.

Data viz #1: Health insurer ad spending for late 2013. First, despite widely publicized expectations for spiking TV ad spending by the nation’s health insurers in the rush to sign up new customers, this data viz showing all health insurer broadcast TV ad spending from June 30 to December 31 suggests, well, otherwise.

Data viz #2: Anti-Obamacare heat map. We’ve also updated our anti-Obamacare heat map breaking down political ad spending by ACA critics by media market. The map now covers such spending for all 2013 through December 31. As early in the midterm cycle as it may seem, much of this spending has taken place in competitive 2014 Senate and House races.

See the updated heat map »

Note that the interactive graphic lets users align the negative political ad spending against the percentages of uninsured Americans in each media market, thanks to data culled from a separate mapping effort by GMMB and Civis Analytics. The result reveals that political critics of the law are advertising against it in many of the same areas of the country where high percentages of people need the coverage the law is meant to provide.

Since we last published this map just before Thanksgiving, the races seeing additional spending are some of the hottest of all 2014:

    - Louisiana, where the Judicial Crisis Network is the latest advertiser to attack Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) for supporting Obamacare, while Landrieu herself made national headlines with her ad containing her own criticisms of the law;

    - Alaska, where the Judicial Crisis Network also went up with anti-Obamacare ads against Sen. Mark Begich (D);

    - Arkansas, where the NFIB went up against Sen. Mark Pryor (D);

    - New Hampshire, where Ending Spending debuted a potentially popular GOP line of attack on Democrats with its “big lie” ad against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), telling New voters, “If you like your Senator, you can keep her;”

    - and, in House districts in Arizona and West Virginia, where leading anti-Obamacare advertisers Americans for Prosperity and the US Chamber of Commerce are on the air.

Republicans also are using the issue in the latest special elections. In FL-13, candidate David Jolly is advertising against the ACA in his effort to replace his late boss, GOP Rep. C. W. Bill Young. And in Virginia’s 6th state senate district, Wayne Coleman (R) is attacking his Democratic opponent for supporting the law.

Also worth noting: that Senate Majority PAC (D) went on the air in Louisiana and North Carolina with ads taking after Republican Senate candidates for not supporting some tenets of the ACA.

See the heat map »

Data viz #3: State exchange ad activity for 2013. And in case you missed our updated graphic mapping ad activity by the individual state exchanges, which were unaffected by the problems afflicting the launch of healthcare.gov, check it out here.

Interestingly, most exchanges scaled back their advertising once the holidays began setting in and the deadline passed for enrollment for coverage by January 1. While the Administration moved the deadline back from mid-December to December 23, it’s possible that some state exchanges only planned for advertising through mid-December.

. What will the decennial Census look like in the Big Data era? The US Census Bureau is looking into that question, including by putting it to the public.

One of our editors recently answered her landline to find Gallup on the other end, polling her on behalf of the Census Bureau about whether the 2020 Census should use datasets curated by private vendors instead of forms or interviews to gather people’s personal information. Jennifer Duffy says the December 19 interview included several questions covering whether data aggregators should be used to collect people’s names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and occupancy.

According to Burton Reist, chief of planning and research for the 2020 Census, Gallup has been polling on the Bureau’s behalf since February 2012. Initial questions tested people’s attitudes about, and trust in federal statistics and statistics-gathering agencies, Reist said; the questions Duffy answered about the possible use of third-party data are a “fairly recent” addition.

Reist emphasized that no decisions have been made about whether or how third-party data would be used in 2020. Asked to provide a hypothetical possibility, he offered, “One way we might use third-party data is by gathering information to help us contact a household.” In other words, the Bureau might use third-party data to help the Census confirm the quality of its address list and facilitate follow-up.

An address list that’s as accurate as possible is the critical means of controlling the entire effort. Developing that list is costly, Reist says, but decade to decade, most neighborhoods don’t change much at all. Third-party data might help the Bureau target any necessary address-list development to just the geographic areas that are experiencing an unusual amount of change.

The Census is further along in researching how they might use data already provided by the public to other government agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. Called “administrative records,” their use in strengthening the accuracy of the address list also would be a first. “We’ve never used administrative records to actually enumerate a household before,” Reist said.

Within the Bureau, research teams are studying how people interact with Google, other government agencies, political campaigns and companies, Reist said—in part to understand potential privacy concerns.

Of course, we’d all probably marvel more if the Bureau were not considering integrating Big Data into its decennial undertaking given what’s being done with data today in politics and the private sector. But the prospect of such a mammoth effort gets experts’ imaginations going.

“For years, private data aggregators have relied on Census data,” our own David Wasserman commented. “For the Census Bureau to rely on, or integrate aggregation techniques pioneered by private vendors would mark an inflection point, a point at which federal numbers crunchers acknowledge their traditional interviews and forms should be complemented by new methods.”

“Without care, however,” Wasserman added, “the flow of information could raise concerns of circular logic.” At this time, we’d note, the Bureau is focusing on leveraging such data toward strengthening its address list.

“Data chefs would bake this cake differently,” emailed Nick Nyhan, chief strategy officer of the Data Alliance, an internal consultancy that advises all WPP agencies and firms on how to best leverage data. (Nyhan is also chief digital strategist for Kantar, my own WPP-owned firm.) “I would suggest three things. 1) The list management companies in the US are very good and have multiple copies of profiles for basically every adult. Would start there. 2) Would use surveying to quality-check the accuracy of the other data in this transitional period and see where it is accurate and where it is not.”

And “3) ideally, mobile would help in lower-income areas and to some degree help map the transient-renter populations. I feel like there is a huge swath of people who don't stay in a postal address long… but have a phone and move around. That group needs an incentive to participate.”

Mobile definitely will be part of the 2020 equation, Reist said, noting that the Bureau already is looking into apps and developing questionnaires that will be easy to present on smartphones. And the next Census also will be the first Internet Census, he said. Quite a long way from 2010, when the only way to take part in the 2010 Census was by answering your door or filling out a form.

CMAG’s Mitchell West contributed to this column.

Clarification: This column has been updated to clarify that the Census Bureau is considering using administrative records and third-party data to improve the accuracy of its address list.