The latest data available shows that 75% of all money the Presidential candidates raised was spent on TV advertising.
This equates to Romney shelling out $472 million and Obama spending $396 million.
Sentiment analysis of the ads carried out by CMAG showed that, contrary to the current narrative of most mainstream commentators, Romney’s campaign was even more negative than that of Obama.
This is unusual. In most elections, the incumbent’s campaign is much more negative than that of the nominee.
The reason being that, after a term in office, the public are usually fairly well informed as to the incumbents policy approach and character. This usually leads campaign managers down the strategic path of “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t”.
Nominees, on the other hand, have had less time in the lime light and fewer opportunities to develop a policy platform or record on a national scale. Therefore, traditionally, nominees have to spend the majority of their media money rebutting the incumbents assertions and making a positive case for change in their TV advertising.
In the 2012 Presidential election we saw Obama advertising heavily very early in the race, in order to define Romney. This was before Romney had time to get his Presidential campaign into full swing and so Obama had the added bonus of his ads appearing in an uncluttered media environment. It’s hard to estimate the impact of having a free run at the opposition for a period of time, but I suspect it played a telling part in the campaign.
Romney, therefore, made life very hard for himself by going so negative against Obama. The American public knew all about Obama prior to the campaign starting. Romney, through his incessant attack advertising, missed an opportunity to positively introduce himself to the electorate with his advertising; when he did so in the 1st Presidential debate the public were immediately interested and the polls swung in his favour accordingly.
During the build up to polling day many commentators, when considering the overwhelming negative nature of the two candidates’ campaigns, sounded the death knell for the ‘positive Presidential campaign’. However, looking objectively at the result of Romney’s negative campaign, I would be surprised if such an approach was adopted in 2016.