As Tablets, Smartphones and Web Alternatives Grow, Reaching Voters Gets Tough, New Political Survey Says

A new survey conducted for the two major political parties indicates that the same dynamics changing overall viewing patterns are also affecting how likely voters obtain content. Those shifts may radically reshape advertising for the next big elections in 2016.

For Democrats and Republicans campaigns that spend most of their marketing money on TV advertising, shifts in how much people are watching on smartphones, tablets or just using DVRs means it’s getting far tougher to reach voters.

Since these changes are happening rapidly, the political advertising landscape by 2016 should be an uncertain, and very expensive, mélange of media spending.

The Off the Grid National Survey from Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic consultants Global Strategy Group was conducted for Google and two digital firms affiliated with each party, says Politico.

There is “now little doubt that live TV is losing ground to new technologies” as more people want to obtain content “on their own terms,” the report says. Reaching “younger, more diverse, swing voters through live TV advertising alone is problematic.”

The report continues: “In fact, since our last survey [in January 2012], the average voter is now spending fewer hours watching live TV than they are watching content on other sources.”  

As much as $6 billion was sent on the 2012 federal races in 2012, the bulk of it on TV. From April 2012 until the November presidential election, $750 million was spent on the race for president alone, CNN reported.

In the report, the operative phrase seems to be “live TV” as opposed to online content or television shows that were recorded.

Other than watching sports, almost 30%  said they watched no live television on the sample week in January, but 46% said they viewed content over the Internet and 44% said they watched programs on a DVR, where advertising is frequently skipped.

According to this research, 56% said they skip all ads on a DVR, and 28% said they skip 75% of the ads. Only 3% said they watched the commercials that DVRs make it easy to avoid.

Among target groups of voters, 23% of Republicans, 28% of Democrats and 38% of independents did not watch TV the week of the sample, another sign that it might be difficult for campaigners to reach voters during the primaries, and swing voters during the campaigns for the general election.

This survey didn’t measure it, apparently, but anecdotally, frequent political commercials repel swing voters before an election—the theory is the ads winnow down the electorate so that only hard-core political partisans actually vote.

But in 2016, it would seem harder to to reach voters when non-television alternatives and devices exist.

So how to allocate ad dollars will be the question in the next federal election cycle.

Though television doesn’t get anywhere near the kind of dismal approval ratings that Congress does, this new report says 32% of the people it surveyed plan to switch away from TV, up from 20% in 2011. And 77% say they’ll do it within the next two years. Who knows? A pro cord-cutting platform might have outsized populist appeal.

What people say and how they act are two different things, as politicians (and voters) must be painfully aware. But considering that 66% of the respondents now have smartphones (48% did in 2012) and 54% have tablets (only 32% did in 2012, and none did in 2011), there may be a little follow-through. Different screens can divert audiences.

But by 2016, if all goes as many in the media business hope, the content devices will be working in concert to create a wall of advertising—a bonanza for some in the ad business, but a truly frightening prospect for voters in contested states who have become nauseated by the carpet-bombing approach to political advertising.

For the streaming medium at the precipice of mass acceptance by users and advertisers, there might be a different kind of silver lining. It might be a time for online publishers to grab ads from brands that will have a hard time squeezing their messages onto TV for several months in that election year.

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