As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 28, 2004
(Somehow this one missed the New Mexican's web site.)
So you think you saw significantly more campaign commercials on television this year than you saw during past election seasons?
According to a new study by a Washington, D.C.-based organization called the Alliance for Better Campaigns, politicians spent an estimated $28 million on campaign commercials in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe market this year.
That’s nearly four times the amount spent in 2000, the previous presidential-election year.
Furthermore, the Albuquerque/Santa Fe market, while ranked 47th in market-area population, ranked eighth in the nation for number of political commercials aired in the study. Meanwhile, only six television stations in the country aired more political ads than KOAT-TV, Albuquerque’s ABC affiliate.
“Television air time is the No. 1 cost center for candidates in competitive races,” said Meredith McGehee, president of the Alliance for Better Campaigns.
She made the point that the amount of political-ad revenue nationwide is “an enormous election-year windfall for broadcasters, who receive free licenses to operate on the publicly owned airwaves.”
New Mexico got so many political ads, because it was considered one of a handful of battleground states. Democrat Al Gore beat Republican George W. Bush here in 2000 by 366 votes. This year, the polls were close throughout the race. Bush eventually defeated Democrat John Kerry here by about 6,000 votes — less than 1 percent.
According to the study, which used figures compiled by a private firm called Campaign Media Analysis Group, New Mexico stations aired more than 38,000 political ads this year.
This includes ads for presidential candidates as well as state and local candidates, McGehee said in a telephone interview last week.
Besides the presidential race, candidates in Congressional District 1 — Republican incumbent Heather Wilson and unsuccessful Democratic challenger Richard Romero — both ran intensive television-ad campaigns.
In the previous presidential-election year, Albuquerque stations aired 18,871 political commercials at a cost of $7,169,600, according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns statistics.
Even though 2002 wasn’t a presidential year, politicos paid more than $10 million for more than 21,000 television commercials.
In a written statement announcing the release of the study, McGehee said the heavy volume of political advertising in presidential battleground states far outweighed the amount of news coverage of the election.
This adds weight to the argument made by critics of television news that people who get most of their news from television are more likely to be influenced by political commercials.
Citing statistics from the Lear Center Local News Archive, she said 30 minutes of local news in battleground states averaged almost six minutes of campaign advertising, but only three minutes of campaign news. Forty-five percent of all television campaign stories were about strategy or polls, while only 29 percent focused on campaign issues. Ad-watch stories, which check the truthfulness of political spots, made up less than 1 percent of campaign stories in the study’s sample, McGehee said.
New Mexico wasn’t one of the 11 television markets included in that study. However, in a 2002 study by the Lear Center, Albuquerque stations’ percentages of campaign stories were in line with those of other stations in the study.
The Alliance for Better Campaigns is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the cost of campaigns and increasing the flow of issue-based political information before elections. The organization’s honorary co-chairmen are former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and retired CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite.
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