Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Air War": Political Advertising on San Francisco Bay Area Broadcast Television: November 2010 Election: Part One: Candidates

Television advertising is a major factor, if not the deciding factor, in many political contests. Whereas the "ground war" is waged with competing "get-out-the-vote/get-in-the-vote" campaigns with literal "boots on the ground," voter-by-voter at the precinct/retail/micro level, the "air war" is waged on broadcast television, cable TV and radio on the regional/wholesale/macro level. CalPolitiCal compiled all political ads that appeared during the 11 p.m. newscasts on four television stations in the San Francisco Bay Area on the six nights leading up to the November 2010 election.
The 11 p.m. “late news” generally is the most-watched local newscast produced by a particular television station, according to the November 2010 Nielsen ratings. CalPolitiCal’s analysis included the following four newscasts:

(1) KRON’s “KRON 4 News at 11 p.m.” (16,000 viewers, Independent/My Network station)
(2) KPIX’s “CBS 5 Eyewitness News at 11 p.m.” (49,000 viewers, CBS owned-and-operated)
(3) KGO’s “ABC 7 News at 11 p.m.” (48,000 viewers, ABC owned-and-operated)
(4) KNTV’s “NBC Bay Area News at 11 p.m.” (28,000 viewers, NBC owned-and-operated)

Omitted were KTVU’s “Ten o’clock News” (88,000 viewers), which airs an hour earlier, the Spanish language 11 p.m. local newscasts on KDTV (29,000 viewers, Univision) and KSTS (3,000 viewers, Telemundo) and the hour-long Mandarin News at 10 p.m. on KTSF (channel 26). The 11 p.m. newscasts on KPIX, KGO and KNTV are 35 minutes long; KRON’s 11 p.m. newscast generally ends by 11:30. Perhaps to take advantage of the abundant political advertising, KRON temporarily expanded its 11 p.m. newscast to 35 minutes during the weeks leading up to the November 2010 election.

The “Study Period” included six nights: Wednesday, October 27th through Monday, November 1st (Election Eve). Television commercials that ran immediately before, during and immediately after the 11 p.m. newscasts were included.

According to the California Secretary of State, 2.33 million votes were cast in the nine-county Bay Area in the November 2010 election. Nearly 995,000 ballots were precinct votes, cast on election day at polling places (43 percent of total). The majority of Bay Area votes, 1.33 million (57 percent), were cast by mail or dropped off at polling places on election day. (The rest of California collectively had a much higher percentage of precinct voters – 54 percent precinct voters vs. 46 percent vote-by mail.) Although a mere 43 percent of Bay Area voters cast votes in precincts, many of the vote-by-mail voters did not mark and return their ballots until the days leading up to the election, including election day. In November 2010, a higher-than-usual number of vote-by-mail voters are said to have held onto their ballots until election day. Therefore, many vote-by-mail voters likely were influenced by political advertising during the Study Period.

This article focuses on advertising for candidates for the various offices on the November 2010 ballot in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially governor and U.S. senator. A future article will discuss advertising for state and local ballot propositions.

A total of seven candidates ran a total of 125 television spots on Bay Area 11 p.m. newscasts during the Study Period. Most were 30-second spots; some 60-second spots were run by gubernatorial candidates. Fifty-nine spots were placed by gubernatorial candidates, 29 spots were placed by U.S. Senate candidates, nine spots were placed by a State Treasurer candidate (State Treasurer Bill Lockyer), 27 spots were placed by a congressional candidate (Rep. Jerry McNerney) and one Assembly candidate (Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan) placed an ad. No independent groups placed ads concerning candidate elections on 11 p.m. newscasts during the Study Period.

Jobs and the economy were major themes of political ads in the closing days of the 2010 general election campaign. In the gubernatorial race, Meg Whitman dubbed her opponent "Job Killer Jerry Brown." Brown stated in one of his television ads that Whitman had laid off 10 percent of eBay workers in her last year as C.E.O. In the U.S. Senate race, Carly Fiorina blamed incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer for California job losses; Boxer responded with an ad featuring some of the 30,000 Hewlett Packard employees laid off during Fiorina's tenure as HP C.E.O.

I. Gubernatorial Election: Jerry Brown (27) vs. Meg Whitman (32)

A. Meg Whitman Campaign for Governor – Republican – 32 spots

Meg Whitman spent $179 million (including $144 million of her own money) on her unsuccessful run for governor; much of her expenditures were for television advertising. Whitman ran three ads during the study period: “Orbit” (30 sec.), “Again” (30 sec.) and “I’m ready” (60 sec.). She ran a total of 32 spots on Bay Area 11 p.m. television newscasts during the study period.

(1) “Orbit” Ad (a.k.a. "Job Killer Jerry Brown") – anti-Brown

Orbit” began appearing on Bay Area broadcast television on Monday, October 25th. In this anti-Brown ad by Whitman, a narrator with a muffled male voice stated that the “real Brown plan” was “always more taxes, more spending, more lost jobs.” The tag line was "Job Killer Jerry Brown." The Whitman campaign characterized this ad as "highlighting Jerry Brown's real plan for more spending, more taxes and more lost jobs. More of the same old failure from Sacramento."

“Orbit” ran 11 times during the study period, on Wednesday, October 27th and Thursday, October 28th. It ran five times on KGO, three times on KPIX, two times on KRON and once on KNTV. By Friday, October 29th, it had been replaced on the 11 p.m. newscasts with “Again.” However, the Whitman campaign did continue to run “Job Killer” at other times of the day through Election Eve.
(2) “Again” Ad – anti-Brown

The Whitman campaign characterized “Again” as an ad “focusing on Jerry Brown's CNN interview where he admitted he didn't have a plan when he ran for Governor of California and it was all a lie.” Most of the video came from Frank Sesno’s interview with Brown on the April 16, 1995 “CNN Late Edition” program. The ad ended with “NO PLAN THEN. NO PLAN NOW. IT’S ALL A LIE” on the screen. It first appeared on Friday night, replacing “Orbit,” and ran a total of 15 times on various 11 p.m. newscasts through Election Eve. It aired once apiece on KRON and KNTV, seven times on KPIX and six times on KGO.

(3) “I’m Ready” Ad – pro-Whitman

Whitman ran a one-minute positive ad called “I’m ready” six times during the six nights leading up to the election. According to the Whitman campaign, “In the 60-second spot, Whitman explains that she's running for Governor to "restore the California dream for everyone" and that she's prepared to take on California's tough problems.” For reasons unknown, it ran heavily on KNTV’s 11 p.m. newscast. It ran once per night on “NBC Bay Area News at 11 p.m.” from Wednesday to Sunday, but not on Election Eve. It ran once on “ABC 7 News at 11 p.m.,” on Sunday.

B. Jerry Brown for Governor – Democrat – 27 spots
The Jerry Brown campaign ran six different ads during the study period, a total of 27 spots:
(1) Pro-Brown - "Serious" consisted of Brown speaking directly to camera for most of its 30 seconds, describing his chief policy goals. This ad began running in early September, but disappeared for a few weeks. It did not run at the beginning of the study period on Wednesday, Oct. 27th, but ran frequently thereafter. The Brown campaign apparently viewed this ad as important to undecided voters in the final days before the election. This ad ran 13 times from Oct. 28th through Nov. 1st (Election Eve), especially on KPIX and KGO. It ran six times on KPIX, five times on KGO and once each on KRON and KNTV. It was a nightly staple on KGO.
(2) Anti-Whitman/pro-Brown – “Why I Came to California 30 Years Ago” used Whitman's praise about how California functioned thirty years earlier to highlight the fact that Brown was then governor. This ad ran once during the Study Period, on Wednesday, October 27th on KPIX,
(3) Anti-Whitman – “Capital Gains” was critical of Whitman's tax plan. It ran twice, once each on KGO and KNTV on Wednesday, October 27th,
(4) Anti-Whitman – "Real Meg" focused on allegations of ethical lapses during Meg Whitman's service as C.E.O. of eBay and as board member of Goldman Sachs. It used U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio)'s description of a business deal connected to Whitman as "corrupt." The ad stressed that Whitman "paid herself $120 million right before the company (eBay) laid off 10 percent of its workers." The narrator's final words were, "We're choosing a governor. Shouldn’t character matter?” This ad ran three times during the Study Period, only on Friday, October 29th. It ran once each on KRON, KPIX and KGO.
(5) Anti-Whitman – “Echo” consisted of side-by-side video of Schwarzenegger and Whitman stating very similar or identical political slogans and platitudes. It was regarded as one of Brown’s most effective television commercials. It ran four times during the study period from Oct. 28th to Nov. 1st on KRON, KPIX (two times) and KNTV (but not on KGO). It ran on KNTV on Election Eve.
(6) Anti-Whitman – “Polygraph” – ran four times during the study period. “Polygraph” became Brown’s anti-Whitman television ad of choice in the final days of the campaign. It ran once on KNTV on Oct. 31st and once each on KRON, KPIX and KGO on Nov. 1st (Election Eve).
II. United States Senate Race: Carly Fiorina (11) vs. Barbara Boxer (18)
A. Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate – Republican – 11 spots
Carly Fiorina ran two ads on Bay Area 11 p.m. newscasts during the Study Period: "Label" and "Crushed."
(1) "Label" began with a narrator intoning, "Everyone is hurting," and featured various Californians speaking about party labels. The Fiorina campaign characterized the ad as, "Republican. Democrat. Independent. Party doesn't matter anymore--when bickering ends, solutions begin."
(2) "Crushed" was Fiorina's "closing argument" television ad in the Bay Area, running during the crucial "get-out-the-vote" days before election day. It stated that Senator Barbara Boxer failed to protect California jobs, that Boxer praised "the stimulus plan" (presumably referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and criticized her for "trillions in deficits, billions in taxes." It implied that she was a "failed senator." The ad was laced with economic apocalypse imagery, complete with a sign that stated "STOP THE CONGRESS CREATED DUST BOWL." The anti-Boxer portion was in black-and-white; the end portion of the ad promoting Fiorina was in color. The narrator's final line: "We can change Washington, but not unless we change the people we send there."
Fiorina ran eleven spots during the Study Period, all on the two top-rated 11 p.m. newscasts: KPIX (5 ads) and KGO (6 ads). Fiorina ran no ads on KRON or KNTV.
The “Label” ad ran on Wednesday night on KGO's 11 p.m. newscast. From Thursday night through Sunday, Fiorina ran the “Crushed” ad every night on both the KPIX and KGO 11 p.m. newscasts. "Label" ran twice on KPIX "CBS 5 Eyewitness News at 11" on Saturday and twice on KGO "ABC 7 News at 11" on Sunday. Fiorina ran no ads on Election Eve (Monday); presumably her campaign either ran out of money or chose to focus its resources on other California television markets.

Before the Study Period, Fiorina ran the anti-Boxer ad called "Bickering." It appeared on KICU "Bay Area News at 7 p.m." on October 21st and on KGO "ABC 7 News at 11 p.m." on October 24th, for example. The campaign's statement on said that the ad was "highlighting Boxer's 28-year record of bitter partisanship and ineffective leadership in Washington. This is the fourth ad in Fiorina's statewide television advertising campaign." It began with a male narrator declaring, "California jobs gone and Barbara Boxer plays politics." It noted that "her hometown paper refused to endorse her" and quoted from the San Francisco Chronicle's non-endorsement editorial of Sen. Boxer on Sept. 26. "When bickering ends, solutions begin. No partisan games. I'll reach across the aisle, work with others, oppose my party if needed. Your agenda, not mine," Fiorina spoke directly to the viewer.

B. Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate – Democrat – 18 spots
Senator Barbara Boxer ran a total of 18 spots during the six nights leading up to the election. She ran two ads, both anti-Fiorina:
(1) "Workers: Carly Fiorina Laid Off 30,000 at Hewlett Packard" featured former Hewlett Packard employees critical of Fiorina’s service as HP CEO and
(2) "Carly Fiorina: Out of Touch" criticized Fiorina's positions on assault weapons, offshore oil drilling, Social Security reform and abortion. It stressed that Fiorina "was endorsed by Sarah Palin." The closing tag line was “Carly Fiorina: Just Too Extreme for California.”
Each of these ad types ran interchangeably nine times during the study period.
The HP ad ran twice on KPIX, four times on KGO and three times on KNTV. The “Too Extreme” ad ran three times each on KPIX, KGO and KNTV. Boxer did not advertise at all on KRON’s 11 p.m. newscast during the study period. On Thursday, October 28th, the HP ad ran on all three stations. On Sunday, October 31st, the “Too Extreme” ad ran on all three stations. Only on KGO were both Boxer ads run on the same newscast, on Friday, October 29th and on Saturday, October 30th.
Boxer did not advertise on the 11 p.m. newscasts on Election Eve on KRON and KPIX. On Election Eve, she ran the HP employees ad once on KGO and the “Too Extreme” ad once on KNTV.
Boxer started advertising on Bay Area broadcast television on or about September 13th, beginning with her "Made in America" ad. That ad focused on veterans health care ("a combat care center" authorized through 2006 legislation), after-school programs (a 2001 law) and job creation ("I'm working to make California the leader in clean energy," she announced). It ended with her stating, "I want to see the words 'Made in America' again." The "Made in America" ad was Boxer's main "positive" ad in 2010.

III. California State Treasurer – Bill Lockyer – 9 spots
Bill Lockyer, the incumbent state treasurer who previously was the two-term state attorney general, was the only other statewide office seeker who advertised on 11 p.m. television newscasts in the San Francisco Bay Area on the six nights leading up to the general election. Lockyer spent $7.77 million in the 2009-10 election cycle. Lockyer ran nine spots during the six days, all on the top two-rated newscasts: “CBS 5 Eyewitness News” and “ABC 7 News.” He ran no ads on KRON or KNTV. All were the same ad: “How About the Truth for a Change?
Lockyer’s motivation was mysterious. Just about every political observer assumed that he would easily defeat his Republican challenger (Mimi Walters) and that a television advertising campaign was unnecessary, especially in the Bay Area, which is his political base (he represented portions of the East Bay in the Assembly and Senate from 1972 to 1998). His wife Nadia Lockyer was locked in a close race for Alameda County supervisor, so it is possible that his advertisements served indirectly to boost the “Lockyer” name and his wife’s campaign.

Perhaps his ads did help him to achieve what may have been his goal: bragging rights as the top vote-getter in the country (of all candidates in all states) in the November 2010 election. Lockyer received 5,433,222 votes, around 5,000 more votes than Jerry Brown did. (The top statewide vote-getter in Texas, incumbent Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, received 3,307,935 votes.)

Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor ran ads earlier in October on San Francisco Bay Area broadcast television, but he apparently stopped his television advertising in the area before the study period. "Abel Maldonado's Record On The Environment" was Newsom's main television ad in the Bay Area when he stopped advertising. It criticized Lt. Gov. Maldonado's environmental record in the Legislature. "Maldonado sided with the Texas oil companies," a male narrator declared, with an oil refinery and the Texas state flag behind a picture of Maldonado. Newsom addressed the camera with waves crashing behind him on a beach, "I've got a message for Texas oil companies: 'Don't mess with California.' As Lieutenant Governor, I'm going to fight hard to protect our air, our water and our coastline." The final tag line was "Don't mess with California." This ad appeared on KICU's "Bay Area News at 7 p.m." on Oct. 21st and on KTVU's "Ten o'clock News" on Oct. 22nd, one week before the Study Period.
The California Attorney General race ended up as the tightest statewide contest in California in 2010, yet neither Democrat Kamala Harris nor Republican Steve Cooley advertised on Bay Area 11 p.m. television newscasts during the Study Period. Harris ran ads during the primary election campaign in May and June.

IV. U.S. House of Representatives: 11th Congressional District: Jerry McNerney (Democrat) – 27 spots vs. David Harmer (Republican) – zero spots

The closest congressional race in California in 2010 was in the 11th Congressional District, which includes the southern and eastern suburban and rural fringes of the San Francisco Bay Area (Morgan Hill, Tri-Valley, Brentwood, Discovery Bay) and most of San Joaquin County (in the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto television market). The voting population is split roughly 50-50 between the two media markets. The population of the 11th Congressional District accounts for just 3.9 percent of the nine-county Bay Area population (based on 2000 census data), so McNerney’s message was irrelevant (or “wasted”) for all but a few Bay Area television viewers.

Incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) was the only person to defeat an incumbent legislator in California state or federal office in the past decade when he prevailed over Rep. Richard Pombo (D-Tracy) in 2006. In 2010, Republican David Harmer (R-San Ramon) sought to ride the national Republican wave and oust McNerney. Harmer had run for Congress unsuccessfully twice before, first in Utah in 1996 and second in California’s 10th Congressional District in the 2009 special election.

McNerney ran 27 spots on Bay Area 11 p.m. television newscasts over the six-day study period; he tied Jerry Brown as the No. 2 political candidate advertiser (the two Jerrys accounted for roughly two out of every five political candidate ads on Bay Area 11 p.m. newscasts during the Study Period). All were the same ad – an anti-Harmer commercial called “Abolish the Public Schools.” It relied heavily on a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed by Harmer that was published on August 27, 2000. The ad emphasized that Harmer was a “Corporate Lawyer” and bluntly stated, “David Harmer is just too radical.” The latter half of the ad stated that McNerney was “Protecting Local Schools from Devastating Cuts” and that he was “Endorsed by California Teachers” and many local newspapers.

Just before the study period, McNerney ran a slightly different version of the ad that said that he was “a moderate.” That ad began running on or about October 22nd. By the beginning of the Study Period, McNerney had modified the ad to stress the word “Independence,” drawn from a Contra Costa Times endorsement editorial. Fifteen of McNerney’s 27 ads (more than half) ran on “ABC 7 News at 11 p.m.” McNerney saturated KGO-TV’s broadcast on Election Eve (Monday night), with four spots, running at just about every commercial break (including the pre-newscast and post-newscast/ “Nightline” lead-in breaks). McNerney ran six spots apiece on “CBS 5 Eyewitness News at 11 p.m.” and “NBC Bay Area News at 11” during the study period. McNerney ran no ads on KRON 4 News at 11 during the six-day period.
McNerney ran other television ads earlier in the fall, but relied exclusively on “Abolish the Public Schools” in the final days of the campaign. The earlier ads were “Patriot,” “File” and “Earned It.” “Patriot” was the only ad that was completely pro-McNerney, completely without an anti-Harmer message. Stressing McNerney’s advocacy for veterans’ issues, it began McNerney’s fall advertising campaign.

"Earned It" used a local World War II veteran to criticize Harmer's plan to privatize the Social Security program. This ad appeared on KICU's "Bay Area News at 7 p.m." on Oct. 21st and on KTVU's "Ten o'clock News" on Oct. 22nd, one week before the Study Period. By Oct. 23rd, and for the remaining two weeks of the campaign, "Abolish the Public Schools" had become McNerney's chief television ad.
Harmer did not run a single television commercial on a Bay Area 11 p.m. newscast in the six nights leading up to the election. Harmer instead focused his resources on the Sacramento-Stockton television market. There were no television commercials placed by independent groups concerning the CD-11 election during the study period on Bay Area 11 p.m. newscasts.

Harmer won in the San Joaquin County portion of the district, but McNerney prevailed narrowly overall by under 2,700 votes on the strength of his Bay Area returns. McNerney’s superiority in the Bay Area “air war” no doubt contributed substantially to his victory, but it was a costly campaign tactic.

V. State Legislative District Races – Joan Buchanan for Assembly – 1 spot

The sole competitive state legislative race in the November 2010 election in the San Francisco Bay Area was in the 15th Assembly District, which includes Walnut Creek, the San Ramon Valley, Livermore, Oakley and Brentwood, along with the Mountain House, Galt and Elk Grove areas in the Central Valley. It had been a Republican district until Democrat Joan Buchanan defeated San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson when the seat was open in 2008. Assemblywoman Buchanan again defeated Wilson in their re-match in 2010.

Buchanan advertised on Bay Area broadcast television in the final weeks of the campaign, a rarity for a state legislative race in the region. A mere five percent of the Bay Area’s population resides in the 15th Assembly District (according to 2000 census data), so Buchanan was casting a very wide net to catch the relatively small number of viewers eligible to vote in her district.

Buchanan ran just one spot on Bay Area 11 p.m. television newscasts during the Study Period, on Saturday, October 30th on KPIX. She also ran ads on other channels at other parts of the day, including during the San Francisco Giants World Series games on KTVU.