Commentary

Political Influentials By the Numbers

The media business typically accepts the usual spending windfall during election years and rarely looks at how political candidate and advocacy advertising works. Without understanding the richness of potential voters’ relationships with candidates and issues, as well as their go-to sources of information, it is challenging to go beyond standard ad placements. 

It’s even more important to build that knowledge base in a digital age, where there’s no conventional wisdom beyond knowing that a digital ad strategy and presence are important to winning a presidential election.

At the Interactive Advertising Bureau Annual Leadership Meeting in late January, we released a study entitled “The Race for the White House 2016: Registered Voters and Media and Information during the Primaries.”

Before highlighting the findings, it’s important to note that the study aimed to examine only potential voters. Thus, the research sampled only registered voters, for a total of 1,513 adults representative of the registered voter population in the U.S.

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The study found that nearly two thirds (60%) of registered voters have been involved in at least one public affairs or politics-related activity in the last year.  The “Political Influentials” comprise 17% of registered voters.  Their involvement with politics goes beyond signing a petition online or offline -- even beyond donating or volunteering on behalf of a cause or politician -- and can include having held or run for political office. 

People in this group are the most likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election (99% vs. 94% of total registered voters), and they skew male and young, 18-34.  They tend to be more educated and affluent, and are more likely to identify themselves as having an ideological bent, either conservative or liberal. 

Moreover, the “Political Influentials” learn more about candidates through a multiplicity of digital media, followed by TV, excluding the debates.  Learn more is not a typo: Fully 100% of the “Politically Influential” are aware of one or more candidates.  Well over half of this group (57%) watches the presidential debates.  Newspapers (49%)  and friends/family (45%) follow as sources for the “Political Influentials” to learn more about the candidates.  There’s a broad menu of site types this group uses to get candidate news/info; 88% visit these websites on laptops, and 61% use their mobile devices.

To learn more about political issues and attendant info, registered voters turn to both TV and digital media (69% and 67%, respectively).  For the “Political Influentials,” the gap between TV and digital media widens, with 81% getting their political issue information across digital properties and screens, and 64% using TV.

Among registered voters, digital ads for candidates motivate substantial numbers to take actions like searching for more information about the candidate, following the candidate via social media, etc.

Most telling for the rest of the election year is the fact that more than one third of registered voters say digital media will be their most important way of getting candidate and issue information, nearly on par with TV.  For the “Political Influentials,” digital media will be the most important source for candidate (45%) and issue (53%) information, exceeding TV by a wide margin (28% for candidates and 26% for issues on TV). 

The implication of these findings, for both candidates and advocacy groups, is that there are no formulas.  Ads, regardless of medium of placement, must have digital expressions for both creation or reinforcement of meanings.  

“Political Influential” registered voters have passion: passion for politics and for the process.  Mobilize them to set agendas in their communities, focus the conversations and their potential to get the vote out. Create messages and advertising that address their passion and enable them to participate.

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