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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Campaign Ads Confuse The Voting Landscape

As we get to the May 8th primary election, we are seeing more and more television advertisements for various candidates, particularly in the hotly contested 9thCongressional District, but also in the 8th Congressional District just to the east of Charlotte.

In modern campaigns, the vehicle of choice among candidates has consistently been television. For political advertisers, TV offers a number of advantages that other forms of political communication can’t meet.

TV appeals to two critical senses: visual and oral. With the combination of both senses, effective advertisements can attract the attention and dispense critical information, all in 30 seconds or less.

Another advantage that TV offers is the sense of credibility.  Whether a voter knows the candidate or not, seeing a candidate on TV sends some cue or signal that this candidate must be viable because the candidate is on TV.

Yes, it can become a circular argument, if someone is on TV that builds their credibility, and to get on TV you have to have credibility. But in today’s quick-paced political environment, nobody ever said that politics had to be logical in its reasoning, especially in the middle of a campaign.

One influential factor of television advertising is based on reaching as many potential voters, as well as targeting those potential voters.  Even with hundreds of channels in the line-up, candidates can blanket both the general airwaves (typically your 5-7 PM time slots during the evening news, as well as prime time), as well as targeting specific demographics based on their channel preferences.

Whether it’s the WE Network or ESPN or one of the cable news networks, campaigns have become sophisticated in micro-targeting the type of voter they want to go after in their advertising.

One thing that I have noticed in this year’s crop of campaign ads is something that I think most campaigns — if they had the opportunity to revisit their advertising — would be more cognizant about.  But it is one of the downfalls of television advertising — geography.

The Charlotte TV market is made up of over 20 counties that cross over two states; but within this one market, there are six different congressional districts:

  • 5th, containing Alexander, Ashe and Watauga counties, along with parts of Catawba, Iredell and Rowan counties
  • 8th, containing parts of Rowan, Cabarrus, and Union and all of Stanley, Anson, and Richmond counties
  • 9th, containing parts of Mecklenburg, Iredell, and Union counties
  • 10th,  containing Caldwell, Lincoln, and Gaston counties along with parts of Catawba County
  • 11th, containing  Avery, Caldwell, and Burke counties
  • 12th, containing parts of Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Rowan counties

So, if you are in the high country of Ashe and Watauga counties, you are probably seeing a ton of advertisements for candidates who aren’t in your district.
For the average voter who may think about participating in the primary election (and that’s going to be rather small amount), with the recent redistricting and changes in the districts, do you know which candidates are running in your district?  I guess an easier question to ask (but harder to answer) is, which district do you live in to begin with?

For candidates fighting within the same party, they have to differentiate themselves from their own party opponents, and TV ads can certainly do that.

But in the ads that we are seeing for the various congressional district primaries, especially on the Republican side of the ballot, few — if any — candidates are indicating which congressional district they are running in.

It would seem necessary for candidates, especially those on TV, to identify which one of these six congressional districts they are competing in. 

For example, Club for Growth’s advertising campaign for Scott Kaedle is prominent on the Charlotte airwaves, but the district that he is running in is mostly in the eastern part of the media market.

Another frequent advertiser is Robert Pittenger, but the office he is campaigning for covers only three of the 20-plus counties in the media market. And yet do you hear his advertisements indicate where the district is that he wants to serve?

So an average voter may be watching the 6 o’clock news and see an ad for a candidate they may want to vote for, but when the voter gets into the voting booth and can’t find that candidate (because the voter doesn’t live in the district), how effective was that ad?

Television advertising in political campaigns is a core component of any viable candidate’s campaign strategy.  But while the advertisement’s message may be to attack or defend, if the voters don’t know where the candidates are fighting for, what difference might it make?