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The Other Numbers You Should Watch

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

The most useful news about the presidential primary races I came across in the last 24 hours - especially for those of us who watch the survey data - comes not from any new poll but rather from a little known media researcher named Evan Tracey. Even better news for political junkies (as I learned via links by First Read and Ben Smith), Tracey blogs on Advertising Age's "Campaign Trial."

Who is Even Tracey and why should you read him? Tracey is the founder and chief operating offer of something called the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) that performs a unique service for its very high paying political clients. It systematically monitors the transmissions of the national broadcast networks, 25 national cable networks and local advertising in the countries top 100 markets, uses software to electronically identify and code unique advertisements. They are also now apparently tracking Internet advertising as well. Through this process, CMAG compiles detailed reports on what candidates are spending on broadcast and cable advertising, what ads they are running and how many times viewers are seeing them (more details on their methodology here and here).

As a campaign pollster, I had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of CMAG's tracking service just once, and it was absolutely phenomenal. No media tracking report I saw in 20 years as a campaign pollster was anywhere near as throughout or detailed. Unfortunately (for all of us), Tracey charges his clients a high price for his data and is understandably reluctant to give away his bread and butter.

Simply put, no one has better data on the candidates' ad spending, and this is why I am excited to see Tracey sharing a smattering of his valuable data online. More often than not, the ad expenditures by the candidates explain the trends we see in the early state charts here at Pollster.com.

Yesterday, for example, Tracey tells us that on the Republican side:

Mitt Romney has aired nearly 10,000 TV spots since late February and spent close to $8 million dollars with a majority of his spending in Iowa and New Hampshire. He is now expanding this strategy to South Carolina and Florida.

Meanwhile, he writes, the other Republicans have either placed token ad buys or run nothing at all. McCain's new ad has been airing for just the last week. Take a look at our charts for Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans and you will see the sharp increase for Romney in the second and third quarters of 2007 that does not occur in South Carolina or Florida. But check that just released ARG survey in South Carolina that shows a huge upward spike (from 9% to 26%) for Romney. That change may turn out to be an outlier, but it would not be a surprising change given what Tracey reports.

Of course, observers should also keep in mind that until McCain's buy started last week, none of the other Republicans have run ads. So a huge question for the early states is whether Romney's lead will hold as other candidates begin to air their own advertisements.

Now consider what Tracey tells us about the Democrats:

Bill Richardson leads the pack, airing over 4,000 commercials in an effort to move up in the polls in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Barack Obama is close behind with close to $2 million invested in TV time, mostly in Iowa. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, because of their profiles, were able to skip the typical bio spots and have spent far less. The Edwards campaign has made relatively small buys in Iowa and New Hampshire, but has also used ad buys tactically on cable TV and in Washington to inject himself into the Iraq war debate. Clinton, on the other hand, has spent over $1 million on TV in just five weeks and her latest buys on South Carolina radio signal the campaign is serious about running the table on the early primaries.

Others on the Democratic side of the ledger have gotten in on the act with the Biden and Dodd campaigns combining for over $1 million dollars in TV ad spending with compelling messages about the war and global warming.

Not surprisingly, the poll trends follow the money: Richardson has seen a modest bump up in his support to roughly 12% in Iowa and 10% in New Hampshire. Obama, Tracey tells us, has run ads "mostly in Iowa." Thus, Obama's trend line is up in Iowa, but trending slightly downward in New Hampshire and elsewhere. And while he's a little unclear on exactly where Clinton has spent that $1 million on the last five weeks, he implies she's buying television in both Iowa and New Hampshire and radio in South Carolina. Her trend lines are on the rise in all three states, as they are nationally.

Also, as I pointed out last week, we can see clearer evidence of the ad buys in the favorable ratings of initially lesser known candidates. The latest CNN/WMUR/UNH poll of New Hampshire shows that Richardson, Biden, Dodd and Obama have seen double digit jump in their favorable ratings since June. Richardson's favorable rating on that poll has nearly doubled (from 27% to 53%).

09-27%20dem%20favs.png

Definitely go read all of Tracey's post - he is providing us with invaluable data on the most important part of the campaign getting underway in the early states.

PS: Marc Ambinder has also been a good source of reports on media buys, posting most recently on advertising by the Democratic candidates in Iowa and on Clinton's radio buy in South Carolina.

 

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