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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, March 8, 2016

Today may be International Women’s Day, an observance that hasn’t quite gone mainstream in the United States, but in Hillary Clinton’s television advertising, every day is women’s day.

Three out of every five Clinton TV spots—individual airings of commercials— tracked by CMAG have made reference to “women’s rights”, gender equality or equal pay. Nearly three of every five dollars spent by Clinton on TV advertising tracked by CMAG has paid for ads that reference these issues. The percentages are 61% and 58%, respectively.

Equal pay alone has been the subject of a hefty 40% of Clinton’s spots and 41% of her spend. The commercial in which Morgan Freeman talks about “every American who’s not being paid what they’re worth” against a series of images of women accounts for 13% of Clinton’s spots and 14% of her spend. The commercial showing the young girl asking Clinton, “Do you think when you’re president you’ll be paid as much as if it were a man, male?,” accounts for 6% of Clinton’s total spots (note, though, that 36 of those aired nationwide). As Clinton works her way through the primary calendar, fighting rival Bernie Sanders for the support of women and specifically unmarried women, her campaign tweaks these commercials to target the next states up.



The other Clinton ads referencing women’s issues make generic references to “women’s rights” in the context of her international work.

That’s not counting mentions of abortion, though these play far less prominently: 8% of Clinton’s spots and 9% of her total spend went to such ads by early March. (Note: most campaign ads address multiple issues, such as healthcare and taxes, or women’s rights and abortion.)

CMAG tracks local broadcast, national broadcast and national cable though not local cable. Our colleagues in local cable, while having less visibility into exactly what creatives are airing, tell us her campaign is no stranger to the Hallmark Channel, HGTV, Lifetime and the FOOD Network.

The Clinton camp certainly isn’t alone in recognizing the importance of women voters, although it is devoting roughly double the share of its TV ad mix to these issues as Sanders’ campaign is: 29% of all Sanders’ CMAG-captured TV spots and 33% of his spend have gone to ads referencing equal pay, and almost nothing to ads referencing abortion.

But the Democratic field is arguably alone in exploring broader angles to use in appealing to women voters through TV advertising. Equal pay is a non-issue in GOP primary advertising; not a single Republican campaign or group has mentioned it. While Clinton has made a theme of rising prescription drug prices, healthcare in GOP ads goes no further than opposition to Obamacare. The only women-oriented issue to come up in GOP ads is opposition to abortion—in 17% of Ted Cruz’s spots and via 11% of his spend, for example. Pro-Cruz PACs and Marco Rubio’s campaign have given abortion smaller shares of their TV advertising.

And while Donald Trump’s ads haven’t mentioned any of these issues, the anti-Trump force now chasing him across the primary map is casting his support for Planned Parenthood and his previous support for abortion as big negatives.

We are long past the time of women voting mainly on abortion on Election Day, if many ever did. Just ask former Sen. “Mark Uterus” (D) of Colorado, who relied so heavily on choice in his 2014 re-election bid that Republicans were able to attack him for pandering and—more importantly—to cultivate women on other issues, namely homeland security and feeling safe at home. By Labor Day 2014, an unbelievable half of Udall’s spots mentioned choice. Clinton’s 8% and 9% on abortion, on the other hand, are in line with the issue’s share of the overall Democratic ad mix in the 2012 presidential race.

TV advertising is a blunt instrument, and even more so in primaries. Other issues and angles used to appeal to women in recent high-profile races have yet to come up in this one. Virginia’s 2013 races inspired ads about divorce laws, domestic abuse and sex trafficking. In the governor’s race, the most-aired Democratic ad was nominee Terry McAuliffe’s commercial accusing GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli of wanting Virginia to have “among the most extreme divorce laws in America.” Democratic strategists suggested at the time that the concept of government interference in private life resonated with men, too, not just with women.

Equal pay, as a matter of kitchen-table economics and economic fairness, may qualify as such a crossover issue. Regardless, while the current melee of a Republican primary may be turning more on the “guy vote,” the party and its ultimate nominee will have just that much further to go in messaging to women for November. A Clinton general election campaign could be expected to sustain its emphasis on women's issues to capitalize on the lackluster record of her likely opponent.


CMAG’s Mitchell West contributed to this column.