The 2022 general election is now less than three weeks away, as mail-in ballots will be sent to voters in Colorado the week of October 18.
When we were students in the 1960s, election campaigns were dominated by the three major television networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – and their local affiliates. The 30-second television ad spot was the preferred campaign tool of the day, and state and local election candidates would buy local ad spots on national television programs. The commercials would air on dramas and variety shows as well as sporting events.
In the 1960s, one of the favorite places to air campaign advertisements was the evening news programs – both national television network news and local network affiliate news. People who watched the TV news were likely to vote, so the best way to reach them was to buy TV ads on the evening news.
This changed with the rise of cable and satellite television in the 1980s. Instead of most viewers watching only three national television channels, audiences began to be divided into watching a variety of sources from different entertainment. Viewers could watch a sports channel, or a shopping channel, or an old movie channel, or 24-hour cable news, or a conservative or liberal channel.
Instead of being moderate and middle-of-the-road, some of these new forms of media have often taken distinct Democratic or Republican stances on political issues in their efforts to gain significant audience share.
The advent of the Internet in the 1990s and early 2000s further fragmented the electorate, with websites becoming increasingly specialized and aimed at smaller groups of people. Voters got their news and political ideas from a wide variety of sources, some of which were far removed from the more moderate ideas that had dominated in the 1960s.
We now have networks that air both newly developed drama shows as well as an incredible variety of old movies and old TV shows. Streaming (on Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, Disney, etc.) has recently become the most watched medium in the United States.
People can access all of these different sources of entertainment on demand. The important point is that there is little commonality in what voters watch. This makes it difficult for today’s candidates to quickly and easily reach a substantial number of voters whom they can persuade to vote for them.
And that brings us to the 2022 general election. Here are the different campaign marketing techniques you are likely to come across.
Colorful postcards. Despite all the advances in electronic communication in recent years, colorful postcards with photographs and short, explicit political messages are still widely used, especially in the final weeks of a campaign. Indeed, by using addresses from voter registration lists, postcards can be mailed to the exact people who will be eligible to vote.
Postcards are especially useful in local races for state senator, state representative, and county commissioner, etc. live in the neighborhood.
Candidate sites. Previously, you had to stop at campaign headquarters to get written information about a particular candidate. In the age of the Internet, however, almost every competitor in competitive racing will have a website. You can access the website by searching the Internet for the candidate’s name.
There is a wide variety of candidate sites. Some are skillfully done and contain photographs as well as information about the candidate’s family, profession, opinions on important issues, and so on. These websites are filled with self-promotion. However, the quality of a candidate’s website can tell you a lot about them and can influence whether you vote for them or not.
Free TV, cable and streaming. We know there will be a lot of television advertising because precious television time has already been bought up for millions of dollars by the two major national political parties. With the exception of major sporting events that still appear on free-to-air TV, much of the money will likely be spent on cable TV and streaming.
It is likely that most television commercials will be for the big races such as US Senator and State Governor. Television is expensive, but has the particularity of reaching a large audience. Statewide election campaigns for both major political parties may decide to buy time on popular streaming shows. It could be that streaming is to campaign in 2022 what television was in the 1960s.
Digital advertising. Election ads on social media have been around for a few years. Data mining by big tech companies is now able to frame targeted political ads for you based on what they know about you. The New York Times recently reported that this “targeting has become so precise that next-door neighbors airing the same show on the same streaming service can now see different political ads — based on data on their voting record, their party affiliation, age, gender, race or ethnicity, estimated home value, buying habits or opinions on gun control.”
Little or none of this is regulated. Campaign marketers are only just beginning to learn how to incorporate this strategy into their efforts. Prepare for much more digital targeting in the future.
When you’re on social media and a campaign ad pops up, take note of where you are and what you’re doing on the internet. You may be able to figure out how you became the target of the ad. Ask yourself: by what interest did the ad try to reach you?
Telephone banking. This is a less effective campaign marketing technique than it was in the previous generation. More and more people are resisting unsolicited phone calls. Still, both parties will phone party regulars to remind them to mark their ballots and mail them.
Newspapers. Is there a neutral site where you can get unbiased candidate reviews? Probably not. However, we recommend that you consider political reporting and mentions in several local newspapers such as The Gazette and The Independent in Colorado Springs or the Denver Post, The Denver Gazette and Westword in metro Denver. Discuss this report with your family. Maybe even discuss it with a member of the other political party who lives nearby or who is a co-worker at your workplace.
Television. Local TV stations focus on weather and traffic, sports scores and local tragedies and don’t seem to have the time or staff to cover local elections well. However, many of them co-sponsor candidate debates and these may be worth keeping an eye out for.
In short, do not rely only on postcards and advertisements on the internet. Work to transcend the marketing spin that inevitably accompanies every election campaign. Careful and wise voting is more important than ever. Give him the time he deserves.