Cable TV Ads Impact Election Outcomes

Submitted by: Effectv

| 4 min. read

New data shows how linear TV ads complement digital ads to expand candidates’ reach to more voters

Key Takeaway

Our research shows the most effective political clients optimized their campaigns with more networks and broader dayparts. They achieved higher campaign reach and a share of voice double that of unsuccessful campaigns.

In the last 15 years or so, the success of winning political campaigns has often been attributed to savvy digital ad campaigns and the prowess of their targeting. Former President Barack Obama’s campaign famously pioneered the use of social media advertising in his 2008 victory. Eight years later, former President Donald Trump was elected after running what Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth would later call “the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”

It’s no secret that Americans have become more politically polarized and resistant to persuasion. This is why today’s political commentators often argue that a small minority decides elections.

In our digital age, a candidate’s digital operation will certainly play a role in their success. But recent Effectv research suggests that candidates can’t win with digital alone. The data shows that winning campaigns in the last election cycle reached more voters than their competitors by complementing their digital strategy with a strong linear TV campaign.

Lessons from Winning Campaigns: A Case Study

To better understand the relationship between TV advertising and election outcome, we compared the TV campaigns of winners and losers in 28 statewide senate and gubernatorial races during the 2020 election cycle. Here’s what we found:

Winners Lead with Reach and Share of Voice on Cable

It turns out, reach does still matter. On average, winning campaigns reached 35% more households and achieved 118% more household impressions than the average losing campaign. Not coincidentally, winning candidates also spent an average of 35% more on cable than their opponents, which allowed them to widen their reach to more voters.

Winning Campaigns

Of course, there are far too many variables to directly attribute electoral victories to TV advertising; however, data suggests there are strong reasons to believe TV plays a significant role:


Seniors are More Likely to Vote — and Watch TV

We can’t talk about the importance of TV advertising in politics without mentioning seniors. Election after election, voters over the age of 60 reliably have the highest turnout rates. These same older voters are also less likely to use the internet (35% of Americans aged 65-74 had never used the internet as of 2018), and more likely to watch live TV over streaming platforms, according to data from Nielsen. So, it stands to reason that TV advertising can shape election outcomes in a powerful way through its influence on the senior voting bloc.

TV is Trusted — and More Engaging

TV has had decades to build trust and legitimacy in the eyes of voters. As one of our study participants said, “If it’s on TV, you’re prone to say ‘it’s more real.’” TV ads are also more engaging than digital ads. Our data backs this up, showing that audiences watch TV ads 2.7x longer than digital ads. Those are precious seconds in which a candidate can make his or her pitch directly to voters.

TV Ads Amplify the Impact of Digital Ads

TV ads not only hold the attention of audiences longer than digital ads, they can also make digital ads more effective. In a study by Effectv and MediaScience, when digital ads were accompanied TV ads, respondents reported a 12% lift in brand favorability. Digital ads were “more liked” after TV ad exposure.


TV and Digital Work Better Together

When digital ads are preceded by TV ads:

The bottom line is that TV advertising can make a difference in helping to win elections. But how can you make it work for your campaign? Stay tuned for our next blog post for tips on how political candidates can make the most of TV advertising.

Download the Infographic:

It can be difficult for political marketers to know how and where to put their advertising dollars. Our research shows that candidates could shift the outcome of elections by investing in cable advertising to expand their reach and share of voice.

For more data from our study on winning campaigns, download our infographic.