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September 13, 2013 4:44 PM Wheeling Out “The Ad”

By Ed Kilgore

I’m currently working on a review of three books about the 2012 presidential campaign, so last year (and the long run-up to last year) is very much on my mind. This reminder of how other countries conduct elections from Politico’s Emily Schultheis is amazing:

Germany is in the heat of election season: in just over a week, voters will head to the polls to determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party get a third term leading the government.
So where are the TV ads?
The comparative lack of political advertising on the airwaves here would be almost inconceivable to an American swing-state voter, who during presidential election season is bombarded by round-the-clock political advertising. Here in Germany, the air war isn’t really an air war: it’s more of a minor disagreement (and a polite one, of course).
And instead of myriad ads on different topics featuring different people, each party in Germany typically releases just one main minute-and-a-half ad for the entire election.

True, that one ad may run on private television channels, but the air-time isn’t deemed important enough to justify a lot of multiple productions:

The CDU’s ad will run a total of 140 times on private TV (usually in a condensed 30-second version), according to the newspaper K├Âlner Stadt-Anzeiger, and the SPD’s ad will run 176 times.
By comparison, more than 219,000 ads were run in Ohio alone last year, per ABC. In Florida, total ad spending topped $160 million.
“When I talk to my U.S. colleagues and I tell them about the number of [television] spots we have in our campaign, they ask, ‘Is that per hour?’” Klaus Schueler, Merkel’s campaign manager, told the Washington Post. “I say no, that’s for the whole campaign.”

Now it’s generally assumed that the importance of paid advertising in national elections (which most political scientists think is largely a gigantic waste of money so long as there is rough parity) is gradually declining in this country. That’s good, but at this rate we”ll probably reach Germany’s level of “quiet on the set” in about 2116, when Americans will watch “the ad” on the insides of their eyeballs.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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