How Much Do TV Political Ads Matter in the Digital Age?

This Vox story, titled “Silicon Valley megadonors unleash a last-minute, $100 million barrage of ads against Trump,” is intriguing on several fronts — not just for the massive amount invovled.

Our campaign-finance laws were written before the digital age took off, and one question campaigns and scholars face is how much traditional broadcast ads (TV in particular) matter in the digital age. Yet here are some of the masters of the digital universe concluding, after in-depth data analysis, that TV ads remain late in the election still provide the biggest bang for the buck. Also interesting that this SuperPac has tried to stay below the radar screen and that this is, reportedly, the first story on it:

A little-known Democratic super PAC backed by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest donors is quietly unleashing a torrent of television spending in the final weeks of the presidential campaign in a last-minute attempt to oust President Donald Trump, Recode has learned.

The barrage of late money — which includes at least $22 million from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz — figures among one of the most expensive and aggressive plays yet by tech billionaires, who have spent years studying how to maximize the return they get from each additional dollar they spend on politics. Moskovitz is placing his single biggest public bet yet on the evidence that TV ads that come just before Election Day are the best way to do that.

The super PAC, called Future Forward, has remained under the radar but is spending more than $100 million on television and digital in the final month of the campaign — more than any other group — on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden outside of the Biden campaign itself. And it has been leading a separate, previously unreported $28 million proposed campaign to elect a Democrat to the US Senate from Texas, Recode has learned. . . .

Like other Silicon Valley donors new to politics in the Trump era, Moskovitz has sought to bring the brainy, data-driven approach that he has pioneered in his philanthropy to his political program in 2020. He has tried to calculate the “cost-per-net-Democratic-vote,” combing through academic literature to mathematically determine where each marginal dollar from him can make the biggest difference. Other significant Moskovitz bets this cycle have included millions to the Voter Participation Center, a voter-turnout organization that has been supercharged by tech money over the last two years, and Vote Tripling, a “relational organizing” approach to encourage friends to vote.

But the lead conclusion from Moskovitz’s research has been to invest in late TV ads that come just before Election Day, when the ads are still fresh on the minds of voters.


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