Voters Tuning Out Flood of 2012 Super PAC, Campaign Ads

This will be the year of grassroots voters, not Nielsen families.

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What would happen if the political operatives and political consultants running the presidential campaigns and so called super PACs threw a party and no one came? We may find out this fall.

One of the many things that make politics so interesting is the abundance of irony. This year, the presidential campaigns and super PACs (hat tip to the Supreme Court) will spend more money than ever on TV ads while voters pay less attention to them than ever. Voters have their remotes poised and ready to go.

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on Super PACs]

There are many reasons why the cost effectiveness of TV ads in the presidential race will decline faster than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political fortunes did.

This presidential race should be big on building turnout and small on voter persuasion. We're headed for a very close presidential election because America is still a 50/50 nation. Voters are split down the middle on President Obama's performance and his policies. Americans divide evenly on the effectiveness of the economic stimulus, the need for strict government regulation of business, and marriage equality.

TV ads are all about persuading undecided voters but finding one in this year's presidential race is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. The candidate who wins the presidential race will win because his campaign was able to turn out every last breathing member of the party base like former President George W. Bush did in 2004. This means President Barack Obama should focus on get-out-the-vote operations geared to minority voters and former Gov. Mitt Romney has to do the same thing with social conservatives. This will be the year of grassroots voters, not Nielsen families.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

In the presidential race, earned media will be more important than paid media. Voters learn about presidential candidates by watching them on The View and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even occasionally on NBC News with Brian Williams. Young voters get their information from YouTube and The Thomas Jefferson Street Blog.

Despite the evidence, don't expect the avalanche of TV ads to slow this year. The smart way to go this year is news management which we used to call public relations. But news management and Internet ads don't make much money for consultants. Establishment Democrats had a fit a few weeks ago when liberal moneyman George Soros contributed $2 million to grassroots progressive organizations instead of the pro-Obama TV super PAC Priorities USA. And the Supreme Court opened a Pandora's Box full of shrill negative TV ads in its Citizens United decision.

But voters shouldn't despair. Not as long as they have their remotes and DVRs close at hand.

  • Read the U.S. News debate: Are Super PACs Harming U.S. Politics?
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