By Lance Braud
Ken Goldstein, Political Science professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented a lecture on “Media and Presidential Elections,” as part of BCC’s “Coffee, Tea, and Politics” series on Oct. 15th in the Library Media Center.Here in Washington State, which is assumed a win for Obama, we are spared the brunt of presidential political advertising, but in battleground states presidential campaigns are spending millions of dollars on advertising that will make the difference in who becomes our next president.
Goldstein said the fundamental factors in political campaigns are that Democrats vote for Democrats, Republicans vote for Republicans, and Independents vote for the winner.
He said even though 10 percent more people identify with the Democratic Party, Republicans tend to be more loyal and have higher voter turnout. So the job of any major-party presidential candidate is to mobilize your base, get high voter turnout of that base, and swing independent voters to your side.
But campaigning isn’t the only factor in elections. Another is what Goldstein calls “the nature of the times.” The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the housing crisis, and the economic crisis have led 80 percent of people polled to say America is headed in the wrong direction. He said George W. Bush has a lower approval rating (27 percent) than Richard Nixon at the time of his resignation.
“This race is completely about Barack Obama,” Goldstein said. “Can [Obama] reach that threshold of credibility?” Can Obama appear to a majority of Americans as one fit to command? According to polling data, as of last week, the answer is yes. Obama “popped,” and took an 8-9 point lead against McCain in most polls.
But can we believe the polls? Goldstein said the real question is “Will they vote for the black guy?” Are those being polled too embarrassed to say they won’t vote for a black candidate, but will not pull the lever for him on Election Day? Goldstein says this effect is minor (1-2 percentage points), but is offset by polling bias against younger voters for Obama who only own cell phones. Polling organizations typically only call landlines.
Goldstein then turned to political advertising. His organization, the Wisconsin Advertising Project, tracks every political ad in America. Goldstein doesn’t need to be in a candidate’s campaign war room to know just what they’re thinking. By analyzing where candidates place ads, how many ads they place, and the content of those messages, he can create an accurate representation of their campaign strategy. Advertising is so important to candidates, Goldstein said, because the candidate can completely control the message.
He said in the battleground states, Obama outspends McCain 3 to 1. Obama has put Republican strongholds into play such as Indiana and Virginia, which haven’t gone Democratic since 1964. Florida, which McCain was so confident he would win that he didn’t bother advertising there, is now within Obama’s reach. This is forcing McCain to spend his few dollars on defense–rarely a winning strategy. Goldstein also pointed out that McCain pulled his advertising out of Michigan after spending over $10 million there, essentially ceding the state to Obama.
Political advertising’s main purpose, Goldstein said, is to create a targeted message that conveys to the viewer what the candidate does best. Hillary, as the first viable woman candidate for president, “was outflanked on