What the 2018 Campaign Looks Like in Your Hometown
by Demetrios Pogkas and David Ingold, Bloomberg
With a few days to go until the midterm elections, campaigns across the country are making their last push to sway voters on Tuesday. But the dominant themes of election ads that voters have seen on television look very different depending on where you live.
For much of the nation, health care has been the central talking point of 2018. It’s the most commonly mentioned congressional and gubernatorial campaign topic in television ads in 45 percent of local media markets this year, according to data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG.
In many parts of the country, candidates and groups supporting them are still appealing to pocket books, focusing their ads on tax cuts and job growth. Elsewhere, politics are still local—topics like public safety, teachers’ salaries and tariffs on crops are all driving the political conversation. In Tennessee, it’s all about praise for President Donald Trump; in Washington D.C., anti-Trump fervor has dominated.
Bloomberg News analyzed more than 3 million election ads for 2018 congressional and gubernatorial races to get a sense of the most commonly discussed issue in 210 local television markets, as defined by the Nielsen Company. Across the U.S., 16 different topics are mentioned more than anything else during midterm TV ads.
The Big Issues You’re Seeing on TV: Health Care, Taxes and Jobs
Issue mentioned most often in ads in House, Senate and gubernatorial races in 2018
Just because a topic isn’t the top issue in a market doesn’t mean it’s not being discussed. Social issues for example, which include things such as civil rights and abortion, may be the most-mentioned topic in only six markets, but it’s mentioned at least once in 95 percent of all markets.
But not all topics are a staple of campaign pitches nationwide. An issue such as public safety—which includes ads about threats posed by migrants seeking asylum at the southern border, for instance—is a top topic in many of the markets in Texas, but mentioned far less elsewhere.
Other issues front-and-center for many Americans largely haven’t made their way onto the campaign trail. The contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had been thought to stoke enthusiasm among both Democratic and Republican voters, but only 2 percent of ads have mentioned the issue since Kavanaugh’s first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Portion of Ads in Each Market Mentioning a Specific Issue
The realities of what a television viewer sees at home is more nuanced still. A single ad almost always mentions multiple issues. Kantar Media/CMAG keeps a tally of each issue mentioned in an ad, even if a single topic is the predominant focus. Their categories cover specific topics, but Bloomberg’s analysis has grouped similar issues. So a term like “health care” refers to ads marked as mentioning the Affordable Care Act and the opioid epidemic. And this says nothing about campaign ads voters encounter on social media and other platforms.
Still, television advertising remains a critical way for candidates and groups supporting them to reach voters. The ads voters are seeing say a lot about the important issues where they live and the issues Democrats and Republicans have prioritized heading into Election Day.
Health Care and Prescription Drugs
A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that health care is the top issue for midterm voters, so it’s no surprise that it’s been the most heavily-aired theme of the election. More than 1.2 million television ads have mentioned health care, with nearly 75 percent of those ads coming from Democrats. Their message has been straightforward—a vote for Democrats is a vote to save or expand protections under the Affordable Care Act. For many Republican candidates, their response has been a promise to protect pre-existing conditions—while simultaneously defending previous efforts to end Obamacare.
Read the full article from Bloomberg