Report: Obama dominated TV advertising in Wisconsin primary campaign

Feb. 22, 2008

Barack Obama spent more than twice as much on TV advertising in Wisconsin than all other candidates combined and nearly five times as much as Hillary Clinton, according to a new report by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Advertising Project.

Not only did the Obama campaign enjoy a massive advantage in spots aired, but the Obama campaign was on the air a full week earlier than Clinton, the report found. Obama aired his first ad on Feb. 6, one day after Super Tuesday, while the first Clinton ad did not appear until Feb. 12.

In the short Wisconsin primary campaign, the four Democratic and Republican candidates for president aired more than 8,000 spots in the Badger state, spending approximately $2.1 million.

Almost three out of four dollars spent on all presidential primary television advertising in Wisconsin was by the Obama campaign, with the Illinois senator spending more than $1.5 million to air almost 6,000 spots. Clinton spent just more than $300,000. Spending by Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee was significantly less, with McCain spending $180,000 and Huckabee spending $150,000.

All of the ads aired by Republican candidates McCain and Huckabee were positive, outlining their own positions and priorities. Half of Clinton ads had significant negative content, while one quarter of Obama ads attacked or counterattacked Clinton.

The Wisconsin Advertising Project analyzed data obtained from the TNS Media Intelligence Campaign Media Analysis Group (TNSMI/CMAG). The report analyses political television advertising in five Wisconsin media markets (Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Wausau, La Crosse) from Feb. 6-19.

"Advertising can tell us much about the state of a campaign," says Ken Goldstein, a political science professor and the director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project.

"The fact that Clinton was outspent so significantly speaks to the financial situation she faces," Goldstein adds. "Furthermore, her late entry and the inconsistency in the messages conveyed through advertising and in her speeches speaks to some confusion among Clinton strategists. Clinton needed to define Obama, and for first time we saw significant negative advertising. Half of Clinton's ads were contrast, and they were largely attacks on Obama. That said, most observers believe that for Clinton to have a chance, she needs to disqualify Obama on the experience issue. Going after Obama for not debating or not being liberal enough on health-care reform simply did not resonate with Wisconsin voters."

The study also found:

  • In what most political strategists consider a "change" election, Clinton ads never mentioned the word "change." Obama ads mentioned change 1,824 times.
  • Clinton never mentioned experience in her ads, either.
  • Except for the BCRA disclaimer taking responsibility for her ad, Clinton did not speak in any of her ads — all were by voiced over by a narrator. Meanwhile, virtually, all Obama ads featured the Illinois senator speaking on his own behalf.
  • There was no third party or interest group television advertising during the Wisconsin presidential primary.
  • Both Democrats focused most of their advertising on health care. McCain's top issue was national defense, and Huckabee talked most often about abortion in his ads.
  • Obama and McCain advertised disproportionately in Green Bay, while Obama was on the air a bit less often in La Crosse than elsewhere, as was Clinton in Wausau.

Here is a breakdown of Wisconsin political ad airings by market:

Green Bay, 2,005 airings, $370,000 spent; La Crosse, 1,338 airings, $250,000 spent; Madison, 1,580 airings, $425,000 spent; Milwaukee, 1,799 airings, $850,000 spent; and Wausau, 1,534 airings, $220,000 spent.

Looking ahead, Goldstein says, "The tone and volume of Hillary Clinton ads will tell us much about the condition of her campaign. And, to date, there are no negative ads in Texas or Ohio."

The Wisconsin Advertising Project, considered the single most important and credible source of information on campaign TV advertising, is funded in 2008 by a grant from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.