Political Ads: How Campaigns Should Access Voters in 2022

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By David Finkelstein, CEO of BDEX

In election years, advertisers face challenges in effectively accessing and targeting voter audiences with political campaigns. As audiences change both geographic locations and their stances on issues between election years, political advertisers must understand these shifts in dynamics and ultimately drive their audiences to the polls.

Political campaigns will continue to rely on large-scale advertising campaigns to secure enough votes to win. According to Forbes, political ad spend reached a whopping $8.5 billion across TV, radio and digital media in the 2019-2020 election cycle. However, Brookings Institute research has also shownthat negative advertising can “diminish political efficacy and perceptions of government responsiveness among unaligned voters, which, in turn, can cause them to vote less.”

In this political arena where candidates and interest groups do whatever necessary to secure votes, campaigns must be aware of who they are targeting on key issues and why, since poorly targeted and divisive political rhetoric can negatively impact their overall campaign. In order to better understand the audiences’ political advertisers will be targeting in the US midterm elections this November, BDEX deployed a survey evaluating voter sentiment towards political ads among US voters. Here’s what the survey found:

What Political Advertisers Should Plan for in 2022

In conducting our survey to examine voters’ sentiments towards political advertising, we specifically wanted to determine how campaigns can be most effective at reaching target audiences and driving votes for a given candidate or party. 

Our results show that voters are wary of political ads with 61.2% of people saying they are often misled by them. Additionally, 63.7% believe consumer data shouldn’t be available to advertisers and 76.5% support ad regulation, agreeing that certain controls should be put onto social platforms for political advertisers. We also wanted to know where voters are getting their political news and information. 77.7% of respondents use TV and social media as their primary channels. Lastly, our results show that 33.1% of voters are motivated to vote because they would like to make a positive change.

What media channels do voters use to get their political information?

The proliferation of social media users has shaped political discourse today. Because social media has transformed into a vital tool for people to gather information, it is now a key channel for spreading candidates’ messages. Social media gives voters a platform to have a voice, which allows for the opportunity to comment and provide real-time feedback on candidates’ stances or sentiments toward a particular ballot initiative. 

In this survey, we wanted to understand not only where voters are getting their political information, but also what they are doing on these channels. 76.5% of respondents reported they tune out or ignore political ads in the media, even though 77.7% of respondents indicated that TV and social media are their primary sources for these ads. Adding on, 51.9% of people who responded to our survey watch specific news channels and read from certain publications for political coverage.

How does social media impact public opinion?

Social media is powerful; it offers absorbable information whenever users need it. Programmatic advertisers use these platforms to provide certain audiences with information using targeting practices, which are continuing to improve over time. However, the power of social media also introduces some challenges.

For starters, misinformation can be spread at the click of a button with spam accounts continuing to rise. This can lead people to change their opinion on which candidate to vote for, or it could even discourage someone from casting a vote at all. Through our survey questions, our goal was to determine 1) who is engaging with political social content and 2) how political messages on these actually impact the behavior of voters during an election year.

We found that respondents who are primarily getting their political news from social media are nearly two times more likely than viewers of traditional media to assess candidates based on how others view them (8.3% of social media users vs. average of 4.6% traditional media users), and nearly a third (32.3%) of respondents primarily get their political news from social media. Another interesting finding was that women are 71% more likely to get political news primarily through social media as compared to men. Although across both genders, TV news was the most commonly cited source.

Why do ethics need to be considered in political advertising?

Programmatic advertisers must stay alert when they spread information about a candidate to the public. As mentioned before, the spread of misinformation is extremely prevalent today in the omnichannel media environment. Programmatic advertisers are the final gatekeepers of misinformation responsible for making sure no misinformation is going out to the public or that campaigns are unethically targeting voters.

58.9% of survey respondents stated that they find political advertising unethical, whereas 57.1% said it’s unethical to target certain demographics. Additionally, 63.9% of respondents believe consumer data shouldn’t be available to political advertisers. However, 75.4% of people who completed our survey said political ads do not change their choice of supporting one party over another.

The Future of Accessing Voters Data

Today, programmatic advertisers have a lot to consider when sharing their political ad campaigns with voters. Advertisers should be mindful when it comes to their campaign messaging as voters are aware that they are sometimes being misled. With access to better technology, programmatic advertisers can more easily target who they want to see their ads. Accurately targeting the right voters, on the right platform and at the right time is the goal, so access to the correct datasets and audiences is crucial. That being said, programmatic advertisers will be responsible for deploying the messages that will ultimately affect public opinion, thus greatly affecting the outcome of the 2022 mid-term election and future elections to come.

David Finkelstein is the CEO of BDEX. He is a serial entrepreneur and founder of numerous Internet companies dating back to 1994. He founded National Internet Source, Inc. in 1994 and sold it to US Cable Corporation in 2000. He also co-founded Contextuads, FreeAirMiles.com, Triplejack, and Dynaprice. David is responsible for all day-to-day operations at BDEX. He has a passion for all things data and enjoys tennis, kayaking, the beach, and spending time with his family. He is a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

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