If there is some consolation for those who disagreed with the Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. FEC decision, which helped create Super PACs, or Political Action Committees that can take and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign advertising, it is in the fact that we may be entering an era when political advertising is basically useless.
At least that's the thesis of a new article from Bloomberg News (via Advertising Age) on political campaign spending. According to the report, the "top six Republican presidential campaign advertisers, all of which are independent political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited sums of money, have little to show for what they've shelled out so far." These PACs have spent nearly $20 million on ads, and all of their candidates are losing.
In fact, one of the top spending groups, the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, spent nearly $1 million supporting Rick Perry, who dropped out in September. The same all-spending, no-return waste of money remains true for many of the Republican front runners.
These findings come from an analysis by Bloomberg Politics of data on broadcast political advertising. The analysis found that there is little-to-no return on investment for large political donors, and "that long-held truisms of campaigning might be weakening in the face of new technology."
The two leading Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, don't have Super PACs doing broadcast ads. Carly Fiorina, another leading Republican candidate, has stated flat-out "we're not going to be running ads," and instead chooses to focus on more direct voter engagement including interviews, public and talk show appearances, and good old fashioned hand shaking.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush's Super PAC has over $100 million in the bank, blanketed the early states of New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina with over 3200 ads, and has little to show for it as he he struggles just above the also-rans of the campaign, usually hovering in the high single digits at best. The same is true for other candidates that have been spending massively (or having their PACs spend massively) on advertising, yet have nothing to show for it.
There are most likely a variety of reasons for this change: A past overestimation of the power of political advertising. A move from audiences seeing traditional advertising on television (which this study covers) to them using digital technology that feature fewer and less effective ads. A general disgust with candidates who are seen as "insiders," which, in the Republican party, often means anyone who has previously held any kind of political office.
Included among these factors should be, I think, the fact that the internet is doing what it is supposed to be doing. Political advertisements are less effective when someone can immediately look up and fact check the claims they make. Information about candidates that they would prefer people didn't focus on can be easily found. People are more cynical about politics and political ads, yes, but they are also more informed. And if they are not, it is easier for them to get informed.
Whatever the reason, the possible demise of political advertising is something to be excited about. Often an artificial means of attempting to manipulate the political process or, more often, slag the opposition, what is billed as a way for candidates to communicate to the masses has become yet another barrier between politicians and the people that vote them into office. So make haste, political ads, in your shuffle off this mortal coil. You will not be missed.