Loss of DSCC Funds May Lead to Greater Problem for Grimes than She Claims

Yesterday Kentucky was informed that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) would no longer be using funds to run television ads on behalf of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. This news was received at an interesting time, considering just last week was the first time since August that Grimes was polled ahead of Senator Mitch McConnell (though still within the margin of error). The question remains: why? And secondly, what effect will this have on the Grimes campaign?

One answer given by journalists as to why the DSCC will not be funding television ads on behalf of Grimes at the time is due to her answer during the KET debate Monday night where Grimes, once again, refused to say for whom she voted in 2008 and 2012. This news does not resonate well with Kentuckians, who have a deep dislike of President Obama, and perhaps the DSCC found this a good enough reason to pull out of the television wars wave between the candidates.

A second answer given is perhaps the DSCC has come to the conclusion that many others have said all along as a Democratic candidate runs against the five-term incumbent: Kentucky’s electorate is too set in its ways to move on partisanship at the national level. Chris Cilizza of the Washington post writes: “The reality of the Kentucky Senate Race is that the electorate is simply locked in, polarized to the point where persuadable voters are non-existent.” Thus, when your electorate has already made up its mind, as Cilizza has proposed, perhaps the DSCC has decided to move its efforts to races where the money poured into the race will have a greater effect.

A third answer, which ties in to the second, is that perhaps there has been a loss in confidence for Grimes’ campaign by the DSCC. This certainly would not bode well for her campaign if the DSCC came forth with that answer, and would perhaps even have a ripple effect on other large donors. The fact of the matter is that it is easy to get Grimes’ numbers in the upper 40s, but getting her over the 50% mark has proven to be much more of a difficult task in Kentucky. Perhaps the DSCC has seen just how hard this is, and thus has lost confidence in Grimes considering she has not polled over the 50% mark yet in this election, and there are fewer than three weeks to go.

While there are numerous reasons as to why the funding has been cut, the more important question is what effect this will have on Grimes’ campaign? The most obvious answer is that there will be one less group filling our television space with ads. John Sides of FiveThirtyEight writes that it is the volume of television ads which matters most, not the content. That means that it matters more about which candidate can outspend the other in television ads, so that they can fill more air space. So far, the DSCC has spent $2 million in Kentucky. While not all of that $2 million has gone to television ads, it can easily be guessed that a large amount of it probably did considering the cost of television advertisements. Putting this in to perspective, the latest released numbers on television advertising had Grimes spending $3.7 million in advertising, and McConnell at $8.1 million…thus, whatever portion of the $2 million that the DSCC was using to fund television ads on behalf of Grimes will greatly be missed as she continues to lag behind McConnell in advertising dollars.

What does Grimes think of all this? She says that “”[McConnell] can buy the airwaves, but he can’t buy the hearts and minds of Kentuckians.” While this may sound like a sufficient political response to the loss of funding, the reality is, that may just not be true. Historically, as Sides has argued, those challengers who can outspend the incumbent on a campaign by a very wide margin and those who can put up the dollars in advertising are the ones who are victorious. That is not to say that money guarantees a secure win, but it certainly improves a candidate’s chances of winning significantly, especially when there is a wide difference in spending and advertising between the two campaigns. Thus, Grimes may be in more trouble than she leads on if another source of revenue does not come to take the place of the DSCC television ads, and better yet, increase her dollars in advertising significantly to compare to McConnell.

Interpreting Grimes’ +2 Internal Poll and Bluegrass Poll Results

For the second time, Secretary of State Alison Grimes released internal polling information showing that she is two points ahead of Senator Mitch McConnell. Interestingly, in the same week, news broke out yesterday that for the first time since August, Grimes is also ahead two points in a Bluegrass Poll public poll. Is this a coincidence or not? For voters, this may be confusing, considering the last nine public polls have McConnell in the lead. Thus, in this post I want to look into two things: the significance of an internal poll, and the interpretation of the new public Bluegrass poll released yesterday.


Internal Polls

According to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, public polls are generally more accurate than internal polls. Silver concludes that, generally, “when campaigns release internal polls to the public, their goal is usually not to provide the most accurate information, [but] they are most likely trying to create a favorable news narrative—and they may fiddle with these assumptions until they get the desired result.”  He goes on to say that while campaigns can spin polls just like any other organization, when numbers are released internally, it should perhaps be thought less as a scientific survey, and more of a set of talking points.

Consider, for example, a recent example of an internal poll published by Eric Cantor showing him having a 34 point lead over competitor David Brat. This is a strong example of how internal polls may not be accurate, considering Cantor was later defeated. Just as Silver says, many times internal polls should be thought of as the outlier, and not as representative as an aggregate of public polls.

So is that to say that internal polling shouldn’t be performed? Internal polling, though at times misleading to the public, does have benefits. For example, with internal polling, candidates are able to see how the public responds to the effectiveness of an advertisement. They can ask questions pertaining to the issue/ad itself, and see how separate demographics or regions respond. This is useful information to the campaign, itself. Thus, internal polling should not be dismissed, but when it is reported to the public, as said by Silver, take it as a talking point rather than a scientific survey.

Bluegrass Poll

With that preliminary knowledge on internal polls, what are voters supposed to think now that Grimes’ internal poll has her at +2 and the new Bluegrass Poll also has Grimes at +2? First and foremost, it should not be thought of as directly related Just as Silver says, there are generally different motivations when internal polls are released as opposed to public polls. Secondly, it should be noted that the Bluegrass Poll which has a Grimes lead is still within the margin of error. That is to say, there is a possibility that she is above McConnell, though it is not fully statistically supported, and therefore this could also mean that she is not in the lead and perhaps McConnell is. One of the largest misconceptions about this poll is that journalists are tweeting/emailing/facebooking that this poll shows +6 point swing from the last poll conducted in August. While the raw numbers may suggest this, when looking at the margin of error in both the polls, that statement very well may not be true. It is crucial that voters interpret the margin of error in these findings.

So what does this mean for the Grimes +2 internal poll right now and the new Bluegrass poll? It should be a place of discussion, but not a predictor of the outcome, considering McConnell is still averaging a +4.2 advantage overall in all public polls. While we cannot completely rule out that the internal survey results published by the Grimes campaign are correct, historically internal polls are unreliable as predictors of eventual election outcomes, especially when they conflict with the aggregate of other publicly released polling results. As for the Bluegrass poll, this should also be a point of discussion, but also not necessarily a predictor. Voters should have some skepticism with this poll until there are a series of other public polls predicting the same thing. As for now, McConnell has the overall advantage, and this one poll putting Grimes in the lead should not be enough to convince us that it represents a real trend in voter attitudes in Kentucky. More surveys will be needed to see whether this is a real shift in support toward Grimes or merely a statistical blip.

Who Should Kentuckians Elect (Partisan Differences Aside)?

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages that can be associated with each candidate winning the November election, but which candidate will be more advantageous for Kentuckians to elect (partisan differences aside)? In other words, who is likely to “bring more to the table” for Kentucky citizens over the next six years?

Imagine for a second that Mitch McConnell will be re-elected come November. In a previous post we discussed the incumbency advantage and what resources he has at his disposal to have a leg up on his competition. What would the advantages be of reelecting McConnell for Kentuckians? If the Republicans taken control of the Senate and McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader there could be a number of positive repercussions. Just this week we wrote a post on Senate leadership and all that it entails. Kentuckians could significantly benefit from having a congressman pushing an agenda that seeks to maximize their interests. Another possible benefit from the reelection of McConnell would be his experience in the Senate. Knowing how an institution works and serving on committees pertinent to your voters, such as McConnell on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, is extremely attractive to voters. On the other hand, McConnell would not be a fresh face if reelected and would certainly continue to contribute to the highly disliked institution of Congress.

Now imagine that Alison Grimes is elected on the fourth of November, defeating six-time incumbent McConnell. What might this do for Kentuckians? For one thing, she would have a fresh face in the political institution to which so many Americans show vehement disapproval. Could fresh faces in individual positions create a fresh face for the institution? It is certainly possible. Another advantage of a Grimes victory would be her being considered less of a “political insider” and more relatable to the constituents who elected her. Being more relatable and seemingly closer to constituents is an appealing quality to voters. In comparison to McConnell, Grimes would not likely be immediately appointed to the most highly sought after committees. This is not to say that Grimes would be at a complete disadvantage in a predominantly incumbent-ridden Senate, the Democrats would likely see her election as a major victory and might do all that they can to satisfy Kentucky constituents in order to ensure a future of a Democratic seat in Kentucky. On the flip side, Grimes will not come into a prominent position of leadership and will thus be less likely to be able to push important issues to the forefront.

There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to the election of each respective candidate outside of their policy preferences. However, it is difficult to choose which candidate would be more advantageous for Kentuckians to elect on a completely non-partisan, objective basis.

Interview with KET’s Renee Shaw on KY Senate Race

During the summer, we interviewed Renee Shaw of KET to ask for her input on aspects of the Kentucky Senate race. Shaw is the producer/managing editor and host of KET’s legislative coverage. In addition, she is a co-host of election night coverage for KET, and she is one of KET’s public affairs program producers. Shaw travels the state to moderate publicshaw issues forums, including political and state legislative matters, and is an award winning reporter and associate producer.

Below are selected questions from our interview. Please note that this was an interview from early August, so some polling data may have changed.

What do you believe is the most interesting thing about this campaign compared to any other campaigns?

For the first time we have a really competitive young woman who is running against a thirty year incumbent for an office and she is really showing that she’s a very credible, viable candidate. If you look at the latest Bluegrass poll that was taken during the first week of August, it shows that McConnell has a two point edge which was the first time we’ve seen that since the Bluegrass poll was taken in this U.S. Senate race, but it is still in the margin of error. So here we are almost mid-August and it seems to be as that this race is treading along pretty evenly and real competitively. And who would’ve thought two years ago that she would be a contender and it would be so tight for McConnell, and there’s lots of reasons for that. So I think that you take into account her age. This is the first time she’s run for a major federal office, she is already Secretary of State, and that is one statewide race she has already won, but we are talking about a major leap, and so for her to be this competitive shows she’s a credible candidate. She shows that with her advertising, with the Super PACS that are pulling in dollars and commercials for her, the fundraisers she is able to pull off, and the cash she has on hand—she is really giving Mitch McConnell a run for his money. I don’t think there has ever been a race like this in Kentucky’s modern history.

With the polling you talked about, do you find polls to be predictive at this point?

Well that’s what is interesting about polls, right? Are polls persuasive? Do they have any effect or impact on whether people actually vote the way that the poll is saying? And remember, these polls are a very small sample. I think this latest poll was maybe 900 people, that really was condensed down to 604, that is a very small sampling of the electorate. So, I don’t know if the poll is indicative of the final outcome. I think it does show the competitive nature of it, but I don’t think you can read too much into it. One because it’s a small sample size, there are many people who choose not to participate in polls, so that doesn’t necessarily give an accurate reflection of the electorate either, so we can’t read too much into that. I think that when they dissect those polls down and ask other questions about gender and other things, and they specifically target women, you might be able to get some insight. There was a presumption that Alison Lundergan Grimes was going to really appeal to female voters, and that this race might come down into the youth and the female vote, well what we saw in that last poll, if that is any true indication, it’s that the whole gender edge that she may have had is dissipating. That at the end of the day, and I think your research shows this, as well, women vote along ideology, they don’t vote just based on gender. I think that we might see that come to fruition when we have the November election. If she losses, there is going to be a lot of dissecting of how she lost and why she lost, and I do believe that the overestimation of that gender vote, or the female vote, could be a part of that equation.

Grimes said one of her number one issues is to create jobs in Kentucky. Do you think that is a viable issue to run off of, or are there other issues we need to address?

If you look at any poll anywhere or you ask anybody what is the number one thing on their mind, they are going to say its jobs, jobs, jobs. People are really worried about the economy, not just about whether they have a job, but whether they have a good paying job. And what contributes to that? Republicans will say that if we encourage the business climate that brings in new businesses or encourages entrepreneurship, then people will be better off. Democrats will say that it’s not just equalizing opportunities, but results, so therefore we should have higher minimum wage—you heard Alison Grimes say it’s not a minimum wage, it’s a living wage. Its redefining what minimum is and what livable is, and those can be two separate things, and so I think she is very smart to go right to the economic issues because that is what people care about. Now you can say, “I’m for jobs,” but who is against jobs? So then how do you define why I am for jobs and what makes me for jobs? It will be interesting to see if Grimes actually picks up the Affordable Care Act. Now we know she has distanced herself from President Obama, but if you think about the close to 500,000 Kentuckians who now have health insurance who did not prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, she could say that this may not be the best thing for everywhere else, but in Kentucky, our Governor and our state is making it work. So, she could flip that on its state. Now she probably won’t because still evokes the image of Obama and that whole system that we in Kentucky have vilified, but it will be interesting to see how she dissects that jobs issue. That is why she is talking about minimum wage and livable wage. Democrats from top to bottom think that wage issues and what they call ‘income inequality’ is one way to get at the middle class. If you look at wages since the last three decades, you’ll see that they are pretty much stagnated and that it is not keeping up with the cost of living. So if they can make that case that for the thirty years that Mitch McConnell has been in office that wages have not grown to keep pace with the economy, that could be persuasive.

One of the hardest things with challengers in general, not just Grimes, is that it is hard for them to say exactly what they will do to help Kentucky. Thus, largely what Grimes has said up until this point is what McConnell hasn’t done, rather than the specifics of what she will do. Do you think that Grimes will have to start talking specifics before November?

Absolutely.  At Fancy Farm she said that she would meet McConnell in debates, but if you’re going to be in a debate, you’re going to have to come with more than “he’s not doing” , you’re going to have to say what you’re going to do. And she has been pretty good at avoiding the press, and the press has made mention of that she doesn’t comment on things and avoids questions …you can do that, but now we are in August in this third and last leg, and it’s coming up on Labor Day. After Labor Day, it’s going to ramp up and she is going to have to start saying, “this is what I sand for”, “this is how I would change things”, “this is how I would do it”. It’s not going to be enough to say “he’s not doing it” and you not offer a better solution. That is what Democrats say about Obamacare. They slam Obamacare but they haven’t come up with viable solutions to repeal and replace. They talk about repeal and replace, but what does it look like? And so she can’t be one of those people. She is going to have to say, “well let’s repeals and replace him, but this is what you’re repealing and replacing it with, and that is me. I stand for A, B, C, D and E”. If she can’t do that, she will lose by a bigger percentage than people will predict.

Campaign Advertising: The Role of Radio Advertising

While during this election season we have undoubtedly seen an array of political yard signs and television advertisements, Kentucky has not been exposed to a high volume of campaign advertisements aired on the radio, thus far. When starting this blog, the only radio ad that came to mind was Secretary of State Alison Grimes’ “I have a message for President Obama” where she states her dissatisfaction with Obama’s EPA regulations that aired over the summer, and after doing research, it doesn’t look like Kentucky has been exposed to many other radio ads, at all. In this post, however, I will suggest that perhaps that is an area where Senator McConnell and Grimes should focus some of their efforts. I will answer the question of: what is the effectiveness of radio advertising in a campaign.

First, it is important to note that even with the rise of the digital age, a vast majority of Americans are still listening to AM/FM radio . Over the past ten years, the percentage of Americans listening to AM/FM radio has remained relatively unchanged (between 92% and 96% of Americans 12 and over). Interestingly, when looking at the top talk radio shows, Conservatives dominate. 24-TopTalkRadioHosts2011ComparedTo20104Below the Pew Excellence in Journalism project has taken Talkers Magazine’s listing of the top radio shows and listed only the political pundits for 2010 and 2011. Even in 2014 Conservatives are dominating the radio talk show game, with Rush Limbaugh now in first place, overall, but I chose to show this graphic because it specializes in political talk shows hosts, only. (Here you can find the 2014 listings, though not sorted)

Now that we know people are listening to the radio, we can explore the topic of radio advertising and its effectiveness. L. Marvin Overby and Jay Barth took on this task. According to their research, radio advertising differs from television advertising in one prominent way: narrowcasting. Overby and Barth explain that when it comes to television advertising, candidates are playing their ads to widespread audience. In radio advertising, however, you can narrow your audience, and cater your message for a certain demographic in particular area of the state. While you could do that with television ads, too, the difference in monetary spending for a television ad and radio ad can be substantial, and that is why, normally, television ads are played statewide, rather than regionally. Thus, at a much lesser cost, candidates can target specific audiences in specific areas of the state, and speak about issues that are most pertinent to that area, when using radio advertising as opposed to television advertising.

What does this suggest for Grimes and McConnell? It suggests that in this final sprint of the race, there is an effective way to meet a target audience without having to broadcast an advertisement statewide. Candidates have the ability to talk about single issues that affect different parts of the state, and leave out the rest, because voters take the greatest interest in issues affecting them the most. While in this past week McConnell and Grimes have each released new television ads that cost them six figures, this less expensive campaigning could be the way to reach those voters who feel like the candidates only talk about the big issues, and localize the campaign for target audiences. While I am not suggesting that they take dollars away from television advertising, because that, too, has proven to be effective for undecided voters, I am suggesting that the candidates take the time to realize the possibilities that radio advertising has to offer in a state like Kentucky.

What Does Senate Leadership Entail?

If the Republican Party takes the Senate and Mitch McConnell is elected for his seventh term as Senator, he will become the Senate Majority Leader. What will this mean for Kentucky? In other words, will it matter much for Kentucky voters if their senator is leader of the Senate, especially in these polarized times?

An academic article on leadership in the Senate states that it is a subtle and complicated matter that is incredibly difficult to understand.

First off, leadership in the Senate is highly situational, given the need to organize the Senate within the given limitations that are imposed by the Senate’s inherent structure. This structure awards leaders scarce formal institutional power. The next point the article makes about Senate leadership is that it is highly personalized and depends heavily on a senator’s personal style of leadership. Such examples of personal leadership style and the results are countless in the Senate, including famous examples such as how Robert C. Byrd (D.-WV) or Howard W. Baker (R.-TN) exerted their personal influence.

Effective performance of leadership is said to require skills of accommodation and empathy but not necessarily close personal friendships among senators. For example, Robert C. Byrd was applauded a number of times for his skills at accommodation and resolving conflict within the Senate but was also often said to be a “loner.” However, one day on the Senate floor he said, “I understand that I am not very well-liked around here anyhow. I did not get elected to be liked here. I got elected because I thought I could do a job.”

Another feature of leadership in the Senate is that it is partisan. Even though it can be said that everyone on Capitol Hill is a partisan, the leadership assumes a special structural and ideological responsibility. Post-WWII Senate leaders have tended to show higher levels of party loyalty on roll call votes than have rank-and-file members of the Senate (Patterson, 397). This might be seen as problematic but is nonetheless true.

Although Senate leaders are highly partisan, they also act as the middlemen for their respective political party. A mediating role of these leaders – that of a compromiser, negotiator, builder of partnerships – is central to the successfulness of Senate leadership.

What will a new leadership position mean if McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader? It is hard to say. We might be able to create a parallel between this Senate leadership position and that of Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader. After careful research, we were able to determine that Cantor seemed to have lost touch with his constituency and thus no longer the best choice as a trustee representative for the 7th District of Virginia. We can speculate that something similar may occur and that a new leadership position will pull McConnell further from his constituency, but much of the position is how you decide to use it. On the other hand, McConnell could use the leadership role to institute positive change in the Senate all while promoting issues that are relevant to Kentuckians. It seems that leadership is what you make of the powers that you are allotted within the confines of Senate structure. As David Truman said, “Everyone knows something of leaders and leadership of various sorts but no one knows very much”.

Commonwealth Duel Blog authors featured on WFPL

CW Blog authors Caroline Snell and Kit Thomas were recently interviewed by Phillip Bailey for WFPL of Louisville on the impact of the “youth vote” on the Kentucky Senate race:


Centre College students Kit Thomas, 21, and Caroline Snell, 21, run a politics blog following the Senate race.

The pair told WFPL it is unclear how engaged their peers are about the Senate election. If those voters do show up, Grimes is likely to be the chief beneficiary of any significant turnout, Snell and Thomas said.

Thomas said Grimes received high marks among younger voters when she joined forces with Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren in support of legislation tackling student loan debt.

“That really spoke to me,” said Thomas, who a Democrat. “I think it is a pertinent issue, especially attending an expensive higher education institution. She is resonating with people our age.”

Grimes outlined a plan in June that mirrors much of Warren’s measure, such as giving students the same loan rates as the federal government gives Wall Street banks.

Snell is a Republican who intends to vote for McConnell this year. She said she opposes how the Warren plan would be paid for, but admits Grimes is doing better at appealing to voters on that issue.

“Grimes has used the ‘Degrees, Not Debt’ slogan continuously throughout her entire campaign and I think that resonates very well with younger voters,” said Snell. “She has repeatedly pointed out even (recently) that McConnell once again blocked legislation that would help student loan debt. On the surface when you put that on a poster that sounds great, or in an attack ad that resonates very well with younger voters.”


Dr. John T. Spence on His Kentucky Senate Race Research

The following is from an interview with Dr. John T. Spence, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Thomas More College. He has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cincinnati with focuses in American Government and political behavior, among other things. Before joining Thomas More, Dr. Spence was a Visiting Professor of American Government at Xavier University. Dr. Spence is currently conducting research pertaining to the Senate race, a study of whether there is a bias in how the race is presented through newspaper coverage.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your project – what are you researching?

I began collecting newspaper accounts of the election for the U. S. Senate seat for Kentucky early in 2013 when the election coverage began. I am only using the Cincinnati Enquirer, the only daily newspaper in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. I am collecting articles that address issues related to the race as well as candidate specific articles. My original plan was to create a pamphlet to use in my “Campaigns and Elections” class for students to see how an election develops. After a few months however I began to realize that by using content analysis I might also be able to see if there was any bias in the information being presented, or in the way the election was being covered. My intention is to try and answer those questions through analyzing content and context. Although limited in scope, the research will add to the ongoing academic dialogue centered on the role of the mass media in a democratic society.

2. Can you give us a brief summary of how you are conducting your research concerning the Kentucky Senate race and newspaper coverage?

At this point I am concentrating on collecting all relevant articles and considering what variables I might use in applying content analysis to the information. Factors could include how often the articles come out, what issues they focus upon, how they portray each candidate, the position taken in editorial commentary, what issues are analyzed, and how poll data is presented are all aspects of the study. The Cincinnati Enquirer is generally known as a conservative and Republican newspaper despite being part of a national chain (Gannett). Content analysis may provide a deeper understanding of how the mass media frame an election if bias is uncovered. However, if bias is not discovered, then it might mean that the stereotype of the paper is not real and in fact, it might help define what balanced journalism might look like for election coverage.

3. If there is a bias in favor of McConnell, what explanations do you think would explain it? What about in favor of Grimes?

I would suspect that if bias favoring McConnell were found, it would be based upon the Senator’s long incumbency and ability to use his office for strategic opportunities in regard to gaining media coverage. To some degree I have already observed this in articles that relate his re-election bid while focusing upon a ‘ribbon-cutting’ in the region. He has also authored published editorial commentary on Kentucky’s heroin addiction problems. Grimes has had neither of these opportunities.

Any bias favoring Grimes does not have the same obvious point of reference as incumbency does for McConnell. Some might argue that gender bias could conceivably be a factor. Perhaps “incumbency fatigue” could also be a factor and influence the paper’s editorial staff to prefer a younger, fresher candidate. Without rigorous context analysis, it is unclear whether bias is present or not in the reporting and publication.

4. What kind of effect, or to what degree, do you believe a bias in local media can impact a United States Senate election?

If one believes that the mass media plays an important role in presenting relevant information for voters about candidates and elections, then the effect of bias could be significant. If voters are unsure about their capability to make informed decisions about candidates, then perhaps the editorial stance by a paper led by professionals whom voters believe spend significant time studying the election might be an important factor in influencing their candidate choice. If voters have a limited frame of reference for developing an opinion about a candidate’s character or issue stance, then the paper might be an important reference for the voter in coming to a decision on how to vote. If a paper reinforces a voter’s preconceived attitudes or opinions then the voter might not be challenged to critically consider his or her choice. Certainly the scale of the election is relevant to the impact of the paper upon an election. It seems fair to suggest that the impact of the newspaper upon an election outcome would be greater at the local level than at the state level, particularly where you have several moderately large cities with their own daily newspapers who may have divergent points of view.

5. What are a few major problems that you have with the way media portrays events? Do you think there is a way to better to portray political events in a more neutral light?

I am not sure that there is a perfect point of neutrality that a paper, or any election analyst, can find.   To some degree whether something is neutral or not is simply one’s perspective. That being said, I have been an elected official and experienced firsthand how the media portray events where I have been an active participant. I have learned that how an event is covered depends greatly upon the professional attitude and training of the reporter. For reporters who have limited experience, the coverage tends to be superficial. For reporters who are more seasoned, they tend to have a broader perspective of the community and issues. In that case the coverage is generally more expansive; the event or issue is placed within a larger perspective. Some reporters rely repeatedly upon the same people for their background material and quotes. Others are more open to divergent points of view and balance their approach.  As a result, the reporter’s perspective and thoughtfulness greatly affects the way an issue is presented and made relevant for the public.

Newspapers face all kinds of challenges today and the industry is not doing well as indicated by lower circulations generally.   The effort to attract the public’s attention to increase visibility (and thus sales) for both print and electronic media has led to what appears to be prioritizing coverage of the violent and the controversial to the detriment of focusing upon a more in-depth examination of political issues. However, my preference for better analysis and coverage may be just my idealized view of the press’s role in a democratic society.   In actuality, the press’s predilection to “lead with what bleeds” is an historical fact as is the idea that the press has biases. Regardless, newspapers continue to be an important agent of socialization for a democratic society and some of us refuse to accept that it could lose that key role.

Campaign Advertising: The Role of Television Advertisements

Last week I started a mini-series on campaign advertising, with an analysis of political yard signs. This week, I turn the focus to the role of television advertising.

It has been reported that a stunning 37,500 television ads have already run their course during this election season in Kentucky alone… and we still have around a month and a half until the election. The Center for Public Integrity found that of those 37,500 ads, 11,500 can be attributed to the support of Secretary of State Alison Grimes, while 25,900 are to the advantage of the Republican Party (this includes the ads aired while Bevin was a contender, thus, they are not solely for McConnell, but one can expect a majority to be in his favor). In fact, following Labor Day weekend, the Center for Public Integrity reported that McConnell was airing, on average, one television ad every five minutes…twice that of Grimes during the same time period. In total monetary terms, television advertising between both candidates comes out to $11.8 million. Most interestingly, citizens should be aware that outside groups are the main contributors to these ads, with approximately a 2:1 ratio of outside group sponsored ads to candidate sponsored ads. This shows that this Kentucky election is getting wide outside interest, but it is also interesting to note that while this is predicted to be the most expensive election in Kentucky’s history, currently, among other senate elections, this election ranks 5th in overall costs.

While the chart below breaks down exactly who is sponsoring television ads for each candidate, the real question we want to ask is: are television ads effective for campaigns? While in a previous post I have discussed the success of negative advertising, in this post I will not differentiate between the two. I simply will explore how television ads have been explained through political science research.

television ads

According to political science research, the effect of a single television ad is short lived. Gerber et al. explore this topic and show that while television ads do influence voter preferences, it is not a sustained decision for a voter. This then leads to research by Lawrence Brown. Brown shows that while ads can affect voters, television ads have their largest impacts on undecided voters. Brown further goes on to show that it is when the ad is seen that creates the most impact on the undecided voter, showing that the final blitz of advertising can have an effect on the voter’s preference, though the pool of undecided voters is relatively small, and thus this may not have as much of an impact as expected. Finally, Kaid et al. explain that aside from swaying voters, political advertising increases levels of political efficacy. Particularly focusing on younger citizens, their research shows that younger citizens were able to possess more knowledge after watching political ads than before, and that when isolated for gender, younger females knew more about candidates’ issues and personalities than younger males.

So, what does this mean for the Kentucky senate race? It certainly means that the 37,500 ads that have already been shown are not all Kentuckians will see in this race. Due to the fact that the effect of a television ad on voter preference is short lived may help explain why Kentuckians will see new television ads week after week. It also means that the final blitz of advertisements before the election will likely have the strongest impact. At the end of the day, however, these ads are not persuading or swaying already-decided voters all that much, but rather just further entrenching their political beliefs and giving them a stronger reason to vote on Election Day. It is for those reported 6% of Kentucky voters who are predicted to be “undecided voters” that all this effort being poured. Thankfully, however, it is helping educate us all as we learn about issues and politics in the Kentucky senate race, whether it sways our vote of not.


Stay in touch for my next post in this series where I will discuss the role of radio advertisements.

McConnell’s Road to Re-election Appears More Secure

With the November election drawing close, more polls are consistently showing incumbent Mitch McConnell with a comfortable lead. Early on, many Democrats considered the Senate minority leader to be vulnerable and expected a close race between McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Grimes, especially with McConnell’s approval and favorability ratings so low. The numbers below have been taken from pollster.com to show the latest polls favoring a McConnell victory.

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The New York Times published an article on Monday explaining McConnell’s clear advantage in his Senate race.

Taking the average of every survey over the last month, McConnell is leading by 5 points. The Upshot’s Senate election forecasting model, Leo, now gives McConnell a 93 percent chance of winning re-election on November 4th. This prediction comes not only because of his polling advantage but also because the fundamentals of the race seem to point to a McConnell victory.

As we discussed in an earlier post, incumbent defeats are highly unprecedented. The NYT article reports that no incumbent senator representing the opposing party of the White House has lost re-election in a state that leans as strongly against the incumbent president’s party as Kentucky does. Beyond the fact that McConnell has incumbency to his advantage, his own electoral history gives reason to be doubtful of a loss at this point. In 2008, McConnell easily won re-election under difficult conditions. 2008 was a far worse year for the Republican Party and McConnell’s favorability ratings were in the low 40s, as they are now.

These are not the only reasons that McConnell is at an advantage; the NYT report also argues that coal country in Kentucky will likely play a very important role.

This stretch of country in eastern Kentucky was one of the nation’s most reliably Democratic areas in the 20th century. When Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were elected president, it was by winning these “coal country” counties. Since Clinton however, Democrats have fared far worse. This is because of the national Democratic Party’s support for environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants that are popular in eastern Kentucky.

Unlike other states, there are not many places in Kentucky where Democrats are making gains to counteract their losses. In fact, Democrats are generally suffering losses across the entire state and the president’s approval rating is certainly not helping matters.

This is not to say that something will not happen to change the tide between now and Election Day. At this point, however, McConnell’s path to victory looks increasingly clear.