11/01/2012 10:37 am ET

The Final Week Of 2012 Political Advertising, And Its Effects

Yesterday, I found myself curious about what the world of political science had to say about the final week of the campaign and the last-minute advertising blitz that's coming to the battleground states, and whether or not all of the money behind the deluge was well spent. Happily, the good folks at the award-winning, campaign season-calming blog The Monkey Cage were but a tweet away, and they take requests. (It's a privilege I shall try not to abuse.)

John Sides has taken up the inquiry and informs me that "The Most Important Ads of the Campaign Are Only Airing Now." Sides says that political advertising, in general, has a fairly quick rate of decay in the consciousness of voters -- like the effects of a "dose" of medicine. He cites a pair of studies that generally conclude that the effects of a piece of political advertising have largely passed within a week, and have faded completely inside a fortnight.

Per Sides:

The rapid decay of advertising effects makes it hard to understand why, as Ryan Lizza describes, the Obama team was confident that their early advertising in the summer of 2012 would be so effective. And it makes the Romney campaign’s strategy of waiting and spending a lot of money now seem sensible.

But the ultimate effect of these late ads depends on whether one side will have a definitive advantage. As I noted in my earlier post, advertising effects emerge most clearly when one side can out-spend the other—and by a lot. There are reports that Romney and his allied super-PACs will outspend Obama by 2-1 in the final week of the campaign. But up until now, the cash advantage hasn’t translated into an ad advantage: Romney and the super-PACs have been paying higher rates and not necessarily putting their ads in front of more viewers.

Ultimately, Sides says, this is "probably the most important" week of political advertising, but it's not certain which side has an outright advantage. CNN reported Wednesday that for "ad time running from Monday through Election Day, the Obama campaign bought $24.2 million compared to $21.2 million for Romney," and that the spending will likely continue -- the cited figures only account for spending planned "as of late Wednesday." CNN goes on to report that the Romney campaign will attempt to "expand the map of where they are competing because of encouraging polls," while the Obama campaign plans to "match any new spending."

The bottom line is that any theories you may have of late-stage political advertising having some diminishing returns because of the year-long saturation are likely incorrect, and there will be no let up on the bombardment between now and Election Day. (Also, you should read The Monkey Cage on the regular!)

The Most Important Ads of the Campaign Are Only Airing Now [The Monkey Cage]

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Romney Campaign Ads