Moulitsas: The ad game is over

Moulitsas: The ad game is over

As of August, the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Monica Lewinsky responds to viral HBO intern's mistake: 'It gets better' Virginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP MORE campaign and its allies had spent $104 million in television advertising, compared to just $12 million spent by groups allied with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE — none from his campaign, directly. In a world in which such advertising had a real effect, that $92 million disparity would translate into dominant Clinton gains, right? Instead, the effect has been virtually nothing. 

In late May, just before Trump secured his party’s nomination, Clinton led The Huffington Post’s polling aggregate by around 3.3 points. The former secretary of State got bumps when clinching her own nomination in June, and then a big one after the Democratic National Convention in July. But today? After all those millions in spending? She leads the aggregate by 4.1 points. 


That’s not nothing, of course, but you’d think $92 million would buy one a bigger advantage. Instead, the race has been more deeply impacted by events on the ground. 

Is that any wonder? Fewer and fewer people are exposed to traditional advertising. Recording devices make it easy for viewers to fast-forward through commercials. Services like Netflix and the commercial-free version of Hulu make it easy for people to avoid ads altogether. And even those watching live TV have ways to entertain themselves during commercial breaks. Indeed, one mobile device ad network found big spikes in mobile usage coinciding with commercial breaks. 

While those trends apply broadly to the American public, they are particularly pronounced among younger voters, all but assuring that the golden age of television advertising — if there ever was such a thing — is all but over. 

And this has repercussions for campaigns. Sanders raised a staggering $228 million during the primary, proving that national candidates no longer need to prostrate themselves before the wealthy to raise the necessary funds. Yet Clinton has maintained a prodigious high-dollar fundraising schedule, running herself ragged in order to feed this paid-media beast. Instead of meeting with voters, she is meeting with our nation’s wealthiest, all for a strategy that is paying zero dividends. 

Fact is, we have a fiercely polarized electorate, so much so that Republicans could nominate a dung beetle and retain the levels of support Trump sees today. Indeed, they nominated an outright white supremacist — can we please quit with the silly “alt-right” affectation? — and it’s having little difference in his base Republican support. 

Take Pennsylvania, where the polling composite currently gives Clinton a 7-point lead. At the beginning of the year that number was just under 7 points. In fact, in the last year, that margin hasn’t fluctuated more than a point and a half, regardless of whether Clinton is airing ads or not. The electorate is locked in, and there isn’t a single Trump supporter who will switch to Clinton and vice versa. Whatever undecideds are left are trying to decide between staying home, voting third-party or sticking with their usual party’s candidate. Another TV ad won’t impact that decision.

There is a role for paid advertising, but it is far diminished, serving to reinforce themes made on the campaign trail, respond to big attacks and, most importantly, motivate base voters to register and vote. Trump isn’t even bothering with that and seems to be motivating his base just fine. But no one is being persuaded anymore. 

Save that money for other tasks, or better yet, take a break from the fundraising circuit, recharge, stay healthy and focus on meeting the voters who will ultimately decide this election. 

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.