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Media saturation: much ado about elections


We’re getting down to the wire in this year’s race for the White House. In our digital world of sometimes dizzying 24/7 information overload, both political camps are relying heavily on media in its plethora of forms to reach you and influence your vote. As we draw closer to Nov. 6, you are correct if you think the intensity of the political ads has increased.

According to Nielsen data, this is especially true if you live in any of this election’s nine key “swing” or “battleground” states–Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia or Wisconsin. Nielsen’s summarized Designated Market Areas (DMAs) within each state show that year-to-date through the beginning of September President Obama’s reelection campaign has saturated those states with almost 230,000 ads, more than twice the ads from the campaign of his opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (87,000). The lone exception here is Wisconsin, where Gov. Romney’s campaign leads by 561 ads.

How much influence do these ads actually have? Data shows that an effective advertising campaign in a swing state can mean the difference between victory and defeat on Election Day. It might be most interesting to watch which way Ohio goes, as no Republican presidential candidate has ever won the race without the assistance of this critical state’s electoral votes. Thus far in Ohio, the margin of the number of ads is the greatest, with the Romney campaign running just over 17,000 ad units; and the Obama camp running nearly three times that amount–51,000 ads.

Then there are the presidential debates. At this writing, Nielsen ratings show that an estimated 67.2 million people watched the first debate between President Obama and Gov. Romney. That was up 28 percent over the first presidential debate in 2008 between then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. Eleven networks broadcast live coverage from 9 to 10:30 p.m., while Telemundo aired coverage on tape delay.

To put our viewership of this year’s first presidential debate in a different perspective, 111.3 million people watched the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl this year, making it the highest rated TV broadcast in U.S. history. So, the Super Bowl still reigns supreme.

As for the 2012 political conventions, according to Nielsen’s analysis of both the Republican and Democratic gatherings, nearly as many people (57 percent of all U.S. households, or 65.4 million homes) tuned into at least one of those political events as watched the first presidential debate. That, however, is down from 64.5 percent (or 73.2 million homes) in 2008.

Taking a look at the viewership of each of the speeches by each candidate (given on the final night of each convention), President Obama had a slight edge, with 13.7 percent of viewers to Gov. Romney’s 12.5 percent. Breaking it down even further, both candidates were pretty much neck-in-neck with people over age 55. Almost 26 percent of this demographic tuned in to watch Gov. Romney, and 25 percent of the same demographic watched President Obama’s speech.

Each party, of course, selected high-profile speakers to address their respective conventions; with the Republicans choosing veteran actor Clint Eastwood and the Democrats engaging former President Bill Clinton. The ratings results there: Clinton drew slightly more viewers across all demographics. However, viewership among males was closest, with 9.7 percent watching Eastwood’s speech and 9.8 percent tuning into Clinton. Are you seeing again how much your choice of what you watch matters? It is as though you are “voting” with your remote (only in terms of TV though, not the voting booth. There, you have to show up in person).

The political “games” continued with the vice presidential debate, two more presidential debates and yes, intensified ads from both sides. In every column, I show you all the many ways in which You Matter with every consumer choice you make.  But, you matter more now than ever, and it does not matter whether you are blue or red.  According to the recent African American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing report, approximately 71 percent or 28 million of us are of voting age.  So, whatever the color of your state, you’ve got the power.  Make sure you use it on Nov. 6.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies, go to

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