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Outcome: Biden 306 EV (D+1.2% from toss-up), Senate 50 D (D+1.0%)
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Republicans catch up with “the math”

September 11th, 2012, 9:00am by Sam Wang

Regarding the new conventional wisdom, Mark Halperin at TIME writes: “Romney…is in danger of living out the Haley Barbour dictum: in politics, bad gets worse. Super PACs might start shifting their money from the presidential race to save the House majority and look to pick up Senate seats.” I’m glad to see everyone catching up with what I’ve been writing for the last month.

From a resource-allocation standpoint, focusing on Congress is a wise move – for both sides. Put briefly, resources are most effective where the odds are right on the edge. And that is precisely where the Presidential race is not. Indeed, it appears that a major priority of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has been to fund winnable Senate races. All of this is supported by “the math,” as Rove put it in 2006. This time, he’s telling the truth – with money.  So why don’t you make like Uncle Karl. [Optimal Democratic Senate ActBlue picks] [Republicans – NRSC]

Update: thank you for getting us so close to the goal! Who will be the one to get the thermometer over the top…

Tags: 2012 Election · House · President · Senate

13 Comments so far ↓

  • Dave Kliman

    It’s really worrisome, in this post citizens united era, to know that money=victory in many races… That doesn’t bode well for our freedom in the long run.

    The only consolation is that people are not complete ninnies and as long as they are properly informed, they can usually make the right decision no matter how much money the wrong side pours onto a race.

    Unfortunately a lot of people aren’t getting informed.

  • Olav Grinde

    Well, remember, according to Republican-appointed US Supreme Court Justices: Corporations are people — and they have a right to freedom of speech.

    Whereas in som political discussions, the actual voters are not necessarily deemed to be people…

    It is indeed troublesome that the USA has reached the point, best summed up on a bumper sticker I saw some years ago:

    Support democracy. Buy a politician.

    To put it another way: How can you have democracy and legislative independence when votes are bought on both sides of the aisle? That which has become standard campaign financing practices in the USA would land politicians and donors in jail in Europe!!

  • Ebenezer Scrooge

    I understand Sam’s logic, and mostly agree with it. But Virginia is not like the other Senate races. The Obama campaign will be putting enormous GOTV effort into Virginia because it, unlike Sam’s other states, is a close call in the Electoral College. Most of this GOTV will vote for Kaine, as well. Kaine’s case for extra cash seems weaker than, say, Heidi Heitkamp’s. Heitkamp (and the others) will get little help from the Obama campaign.

  • Brad Davis

    Prof. Wang, given your position that a lot the Presidential race isn’t really at play, perhaps you could spend some more time looking at individual senate races that are? I imagine the data is harder to come by and less reliable. I’d extend that to house races, but I would imagine the difficulties are enhanced and the number of races at play is too large to do an effective survey. Either way, it could be interesting. It might also be an interesting way to document the effects of Citizen’s United, particularly if data is available about the timing and amounts of money being spent by super PACs.

  • Olav Grinde

    Good news on 9/11

    There is virtually unanimous agreement that President Bill Clinton delivered a hugely effective, fact-filled speech at the Democratic National Convention.

    Dr Wang has documented the impact of the speeches by First Lady Michelle Obama, President Bill Clinton, and the current President.

    In a situation where the GOP & SuperPACs are buying massive amounts of TV and radio time, there is one striking development: The USA’s 42nd President is hitting the campaign trail in the swing states.

    It will surprise me if Bill Clinton doesn’t get considerable coverage on local and state-wide channels. And as we say in the ad biz: Good, free journalistic coverage is far more valuable than purchased advertising.

    I wonder what impact the fiscally conservative Mr Clinton with his undeniable “gift of the gab” will have.

  • Ralph Reinhold

    @Olav Grinde: I would like to see something substantial on the effect the saturation advertising is having. Most of the people I know use ‘Tivo” or its equivalent to watch programs when it is convenient for them and not at the network times.

    All of them fast forward through the commercials except the ones who do it with a Linux or Android desktop which intercepts the commercial cue and skips to the next programming segment.

    Even the people who watch OTA real time, if they see an ad block coming head for the bathroom.

  • Brad Davis

    @Ralph Reinhold

    I wonder how the usage of using “Tivo” or other similar devices correlates with political persuasion? I would imagine the most dominant users of TiVO and Linux/Android television recording boxes are likely to be younger, more technically capable, and urban than people who simply sit through commercial breaks, and how that affects the efficacy and efficiency of political ad buys? It may be an effective way to shore up your base, but it may not be effective at approaching swing voters because of differences in the media consumption habits.

  • Olav Grinde

    @Brad, Ralph: Fascinating points!

    My wife and I, for instance, use our TV only for watching carefully-chosen DVDs and Netflix movies. It’s not hooked up to any channels — simply because neither of us are willing to watch commercials.

    We get our news from the Internet and occasional newspapers/newsmagazines.

    We watched a number of DNC and RNC speeches online. In addition, I have chosen to watch a number of campaign commercials online.

    That’s it. Not even TiVO.

  • JaredL

    I also wonder about diminishing marginal benefit of advertising dollars for the same candidate. It seems like in a general where both have and spend a lot of money, the difference isn’t as important. I’m not familiar with any studies about this, and would be interested if anyone knows of any.

    I work a lot in Florida and have seen the Romney, Obama and superpac ads on TV about a million times each. More seem to support Romney or be hostile to Obama than the other way around, but I would think at some point you hit saturation and there is little benefit to running it again. I have to admit that I’ve never been anything close to undecided, maybe seeing the same ad over and over again would influence me if I were.

    If the ads are meant to be information ads, in other words not selling you on an image or lifestyle like a typical beer ad, they should become less effective as fewer and fewer people see them for the first time. The public knows more about the presidential candidates already as well, which both limits new information and the number of viewers that are persuadable.

    Ads in local and statewide races are more likely to hit voters who are less informed and more persuadable. Money spent on a smaller race should be more likely to change the outcome for an election equally close to the presidential one, although obviously the stakes are higher in the latter case.

  • Mark F.

    “Well, remember, according to Republican-appointed US Supreme Court Justices: Corporations … have a right to freedom of speech.”

    Actually, all 9 justices in the Citizens United case agreed that corporations have a right to free speech. The minority, however, felt that reasonable restrictions could be placed on corporate donations to PACs.

    In any event, overturning Citizens United wouldn’t change the fact that wealthy individuals can spend as much as they want supporting candidates or on their own campaigns.

  • Brad Davis


    I agree with you about the diminishing returns of showing the same ads to the same individuals repeatedly, although there is probably quite a bit of variance across individuals as to how many times you have to show someone an ad before it has an impact. There have been numerous GAP television ads that I’ve seen a dozen times before I connected it with being an advertisement for GAP. Beyond the effectiveness of these ads on an individual by individual basis, my guess is that they’re also trying to hit different demographics and groups, and the best way to do that is to keep the advertising pressure up so that you don’t miss people.

  • Olav Grinde

    @Mark: Let me clarify.

    For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with the unanimous decision of the 9 justices who said that corporations have freedom of speech. So far so good.

    However, like the Supreme Court’s minority — including Chief Justice John Roberts — I have a serious problem with the sentiment that reasonable restrictions on corporate donations to PACs is a restriction of “freedom of the speech”.

    With one sweeping decision, which transcended the case they were considering, the US Supreme Court undid the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act.

    I believe that particular Supreme Court Decision, under the guise of “freedom of speech”, was immensely harmful to American democracy.

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