Effective television advertising, lead by powerful spots highlighting domestic manufacturing jobs and demonizing corporate outsourcing, was a large part of how President Barack Obama earned re-election and Democrats successfully expanded their Senate majority, according to media experts.
Elizabeth Wilner, vice president of Kantar Media CMAG, a company that tracks broadcast TV advertising, said of the 10,000 unique political ads run in 2012, other than shots of humans, the image of a factory was the most used.
"Americans see our nation as one that makes things and builds things; the economic policy challenges we face are complicated and they are difficult to illustrate, especially in ads," she said during a conference call hosted by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. "It's not surprising that the ads in the biggest races of 2012 dwelled a lot on joblessness, the auto bailout, and the impact of shipping jobs and importing products from overseas, especially China."
As a sign of how the 2012 campaign focus had shifted from the 2008 campaign, Wilner said the number of mentions of 'jobs' in ads tripled from 2008 to 2012 and the mentions of 'trade' more than doubled in presidential spots.
Republicans ran ads depicting Democrats as supporting job-crippling regulations whereas Democrats attacked Republicans for supporting businesses that shipped jobs overseas. Given the electoral outcome of senate races in manufacturing-heavy swing states such as Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, as well as the presidential race, and the fact that Democrats were outspent on ads about 'jobs', Wilner said Democrats found the secret sauce in their messaging to win over the American public.
"It's not unreasonable to assume the Democrats' messaging on jobs was more effective, in general," she said. "The fact that Democrats won all five races despite being outspent and out-aired on what was the biggest issue in advertising by far suggests that their messages were sharper and more impactful."
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was also most hurt by ads highlighting the role of his venture capital firm, Bain Capital, had in laying off American workers and off-shoring jobs. Democrats spent $57 million on television ads attacking Bain Capital, Wilner said.
Ad firms also rated an anti-Bain ad, in which a worker describes being told to build a stage that was then used by executives to address workers when they were laid off, as the single most effective ad of the cycle, she added.
Wilner also revealed that Ohio was indeed ground zero for political advertising, particularly those related to 'jobs' and 'trade.'
"Ohio markets in general, and Cleveland in particular, just completely dominated in terms of presidential ad spending and presidential ad spot count on all of these issues," she said. "Across all the markets that saw presidential ads this year, Cleveland ranked either the highest or second highest on spending and spot counts for ads about jobs, trade, China trade, and the anti-Bain advertising."
Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which organized the conference call, said the auto bailout was a losing issue that turned into a winner for Obama.
"There's no doubt that the auto rescue was terribly unpopular decision even in some parts of the Midwest in 2009 and 2010," he said, citing polling at the time. "There are a lot of reasons for that but by 2012, when voters were presented with the arguments about why the rescue should have taken place or that it was a bad idea, it was a plurality or majority supported [decision] in every region."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.