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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, November 4, 2014

Election Day is a Great Sort. Just as dozens of potentially toss-up races are reduced to a handful that draw all the scrutiny, so are dozens of story lines reduced to just a few as the political press corps zeroes in. Yet here are a couple of late-breaking or otherwise below-the-radar TV advertising angles that have gotten little notice.

#1 Everyone's a friend of the farmer.
An 11th-hour emphasis in what--when you think about it--is really quite a handful of Senate states with farm belts has made the farmer another unexpected hero of 2014 TV, alongside the veteran. And indeed, the two go together as rural areas often have sizable veteran communities.

It's not just because of Bruce Braley's ill-judged remark that food/agriculture suddenly appears at #11 on the list of the 15 most-used issues in Senate TV spot occurrences for the past week, per the graphic below. But the pile-on by no fewer than six different Republican advertisers, together with Braley's own pro-farmer ads, is the big driver of the issue's sudden prominence.

GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Susan Collins in Maine also are advertising about farms and farmers, while Senate Majority PAC has tried to wedge rural voters away from Tom Cotton (R) in Arkansas and both "sides" in the Kansas race have advertised on the issue. Ag-focused ads also have hit in Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Otherwise, the five most-used issues in Senate broadcast TV advertising have remained rock solid through the last three weeks of the election cycle, including this most recent week of October 27 through November 2: #1 healthcare (all mentions, including of "Obamacare," Medicare, women's health and other healthcare references); #2 jobs/unemployment ; #3 taxes (though Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats by stepping up their anti-tax messaging for the final week); #4 energy/environment; and #5 anti-Obamacare, with 6% of these spots being sponsored by Democrats.

As usual, the graphic by CMAG's Harley Ellenberger includes two types of information: 1) the numbers in the left-hand column represent the total number of broadcast TV ad occurrences-i.e., individual airings of ads-devoted to that message for the week, while 2) the pair of red and blue bubbles indicates the percentage of that total number of occurrences sponsored by each side. The previous week's graphic is included below it for comparison purposes.

Notable: Not among the top 15 for the final week: terrorism or immigration.

October 27 - November 2

October 20 - 26

#2 Whither socially conservative groups?
Yes, Democrats leaned hard-maybe too hard-on the choice angle. But beyond that, the abortion debate probably has never been so one-sided on the air. The silence among pro-life advertisers in 2014 has been deafening. Across all US Senate and House races, only three outside groups did any pro-life advertising to speak of, for a sum total of 912 broadcast TV spots. Compare that to 14,066 abortion-related spots aired by nine Democratic outside groups and you get a ratio of more than 15 group-sponsored pro-choice spots to one group-sponsored pro-life spot. (All data for the duration of this column as of November 1, 2014, and all crunched by CMAG's fantastic Mitchell West.)

It gets odder. Beyond a robust defense of gun rights, almost no socially conservative groups to speak of advertised in 2014. In a cycle when the Governor of New York's girlfriend appeared alongside his daughters in multiple campaign ads and a Republican congressional candidate uttered the words "my husband" in his, marriage-traditional or not-barely came up. Just shy of 1,400 group-sponsored spots, total, addressed the issue across all congressional races. Of those, only 46 spots were in favor of traditional marriage.

#3 Democrats *heart* Hobby Lobby.
I can barely recall a single 2014 TV ad that directly promoted the Affordable Care Act, and those that indirectly did so were also few and far between. But the Hobby Lobby case aligned with Democrats' strategy of pushing choice, giving rise to a new pro-ACA rallying cry (in classic pro-ACA double-negative fashion): the prospect of Republicans letting employers deny their employees access to birth control.

As in: "[Dan] Sullivan signed a pledge to give employers the right to interfere with a woman's health insurance coverage for birth control," said a recent DSCC ad in Alaska. Or: "Bruce Rauner supports employer-provided birth control. Always has," said the Illinois GOP in an ad pushing back on Democratic attacks on their gubernatorial nominee.

The line joins Democrats' short list of promotions of aspects of an unnamed ACA: that Republicans would allow insurers to charge women more and deny coverage for preexisting conditions.

#4 Republicans *heart* Obamacare.
Speaking of the healthcare law, despite talk of it fading as a priority for voters and thus, Republican advertisers, a Republican takeover of the Senate nevertheless will have been fueled significantly by anti-Obamacare attacks. In US Senate races, 90% of all broadcast TV spots sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and 61% of all spots sponsored by Crossroads GPS attacked the President's healthcare law, along with 44% of all NRSC independent expenditure spots.

And for good measure, in US House races, 100% of all AFP spots, 100% of all Freedom Partners spots, 69% of all Crossroads spots, and 53% of all US Chamber-sponsored spots attacked Obamacare.

#5 Last gasp for the ACA?
If Republicans finally succeed in leveraging the healthcare law to achieve control of the Senate, it will be just as the law itself is starting to succeed, with HHS counting 10.3 million uninsured Americans gaining coverage so far. You can't overstate the degree to which the law has become a rallying cry for conservatives, but I'm probably not going out on a limb by suggesting 2014 will be its last big beating.

And a mighty run it has been. The ACA has inspired $550 million in negative election-related TV advertising (not counting general issue advertising, and not counting local cable ad spend) over three election cycles. In 2014, Republicans used it in ads for races from US Senate down to state public service commissioner. The Kaiser Family Foundation crunched CMAG's 2014 data on ACA-related advertising for a very topline look released last week. The key takeaways:

First, that Republicans usually mentioned the ACA in the context of fiscal issues while Democrats referenced it in the context of social issues. While you might presume that's been the case, it provides some rare, ad-based context for the broader worldviews of the two parties about the role of government.

The second takeaway was that insurers, while they mostly steered clear of appearing to endorse or comment in any way on the ACA itself, nevertheless basically compensated for a dearth of positive political advertising with their full-court press to gain customers. In the first-ever steel-cage match between political advertising versus product advertising, the President and his party may have lost in the short term, which will be all that matters to those on the ballot today, but product arguably won.