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The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012


Dianne G. Bystrom, Mary C. Banwart and Mitchell S. McKinney

alieNATION presents research conducted by a national election team and leading scholars in political communication that explores a range of important topics and variables affecting voter attitudes and behavior in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
In exploring the messages, issues, and voters of the 2012 election, these studies employ multiple methods including experimental design, content analysis, rhetorical criticism, and survey research. Whereas other election research tends to investigate either the content or effects of campaign communication, the more comprehensive and systematic nature of this collection enables alieNATION to cohere thematically around considerations of voter alienation, political engagement, political efficacy, and ultimately, citizens’ voting decisions.
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Chapter Three: Communicating with Voters 30 Seconds at a Time: Presidential Campaign Advertising 2012


← 47 | 48 → CHAPTER THREE


Advertising was a critical component of both President Barack Obama’s and former Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy in the 2012 presidential election. A record amount of money was spent in the 2012 presidential race, with more than $950 million spent on television advertising to support the candidates. This represents an increase of nearly $350 million from 2008. For that dollar amount, the number of times advertisements aired in support of either Obama or Romney totaled 1,431,939. Although airtime purchased by third-party organizations contributed to this total, the candidates’ campaigns represented the greatest effort at reaching voters through television advertising, particularly the Obama campaign. Overall, Obama’s campaign bought twice as many placements of their ads as Romney’s campaign, airing 511,513 spots on television compared to Romney’s 207,984 (Fowler & Ridout, 2012). Given these striking numbers it is clear that the candidates and third parties believed television advertising, as part of an overall campaign strategy, was an essential component for victory.

Television advertising remains one of the greatest expenses and most valuable tools in presidential campaigns. Candidates spend millions of dollars on advertising in an effort to win votes, and research suggests this tactic is effective. Numerous studies have found that campaigns can increase the favorability of their candidate through advertising (Atkin & Heald, 1976; Kahn & Geer, 1994; Kaid, Leland, & Whitney, 1992; Kaid, 1997; Tedesco, 2002;...

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