Articles and Analysis


Today's Most Important Data

Topics: 2008 , ABC/Washington Post , Frank Newport , Gallup , Mike McDonald , Pew Research Center , RNC , USA Today , USAToday Gallup

The most important and useful campaign related data you will read today was released this morning by the Wisconsin Advertising Project. It tells us precisely what the two presidential candidates and political party organizations have been spending on television advertising in each state from June 3 to July 26. Here are the two key (forgive me) "money" paragraphs:

The McCain ad effort is more narrowly focused with intense attention being paid to four states -- Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. McCain is out-advertising the Democratic nominee in these four states where the RNC has also entered the fray. That said, in seven other battleground states where both campaigns are up (Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, and West Virginia) the McCain campaign is also out-advertising the Obama campaign.

Despite being out-advertised in nearly all states where both candidates are airing ads, Obama continues to advertise in states that have recently been unfavorable to Democratic presidential candidates. To date, Senator Obama is airing ads in 37 markets where McCain has not aired a single ad, while McCain is advertising in only two markets where Obama is not. Although Florida was the pivotal state in the 2000 presidential election, John McCain has not aired a single ad there since June 3rd. Senator Obama has aired over 7,000 ads in Florida since becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee and has spent more money in Florida than in any other state. Other states where only Obama’s paid advertising message is being heard are Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, and North Carolina.

The full pdf report has tables with specific data on each state and much more. Simply put, you ought to read recent poll data in the context of what candidates (and party committees) have been spending in each state. The numbers provided by the Wisconsin project are an absolutely invaluable tool.

The data were collected by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG. I wrote more about CMAG and how it collects advertising data last October.

Update: More in today's New York Times and some observations from Nate Silver.

(H/T Ben Smith).



It's pretty clear what's going on. McCain HAS TO win at least two of the four states he's concentrating on. Anything less and nothing else matters. In three of those states, Obama can build on the primary infrastructure already in place. In Michigan, he clearly hopes to build from scratch.

On the other hand, the Obama strategy of forcing McCain to defend his base in reddish to purple states is clearly underway.

Using a military analogy, Obama is concentrating on taking and holding territory with the infantry; not an unexpected approach from a former community organizer. McCain is banking heavily on an "air" war. Again, not surprising from a former pilot. My money's on the infantry in both war and politics.

In addition, Obama appears to be using the same strategy Reagan used at the end of the Cold War: force your opponent to spend themselves into bankruptcy. Looking forward to the fall, I suspect the Obama campaign would like nothing more than seeing McCain spending heavily in Florida, a state McCain must win and Obama doesn't have to win.



but what are the figures? how many bucks each?



so obama has outspent mccain by 6 million and that drops to approx 2 and half million if you factor in the rnc's help.

but obama has still out spent mccain by almost 20 percent without the help of the dnc which is experiencing some financial pressure and luckily has a candidate that doesnt need any transfusions.

but polls are polls. the implication of the above citation being that if mccain falls short he'll bag the advertising blitz and fall back behind obama in those key mid west battlegrounds?

the same can be said for the impact of ads in the obama race...he sways through advertising as does mccain. retract his ads and his numbers will fall as well or so the implication of the above entry coyly implies.

numbers are neither more pure for one candidate than for another.


richard pollara:

One of the problems with being a rock star (or a doctor for that matter) is that you think you are never wrong. A quick look at Nate Silver's scenario analysis shows how much more clearly the McCain campaign has grasped the electoral map. Obama's departure from the real world of electoral math is a worrisome manifestation of a campaign that has often seemed out of touch. One of the things that I really liked about the Clinton campaign is how it grew and changed with each primary win or loss. Obama is marginally ahead right now, but 100 days is several lifetimes in politics (think Iowa to just before Pa). The campaign that is most adaptable and does the best jobs of utilizing limited resources will likely win. Right now McCain is doing a better job of that than Obama.



@richard pollara:
You do realize that Clinton lost...? And perhaps because it was the Obama campaign which figured out this was a "change" election, while the multiple themes coming out of the Clinton campaign was because they couldn't figure out what worked?

The "real world" of electoral math that you uphold says Obama can't win Colorado or Virginia, and the battlegrounds remain OH/PA/FL. Ummm... not true. Even if Obama loses OH and FL, he just has to win VA and IA+Kerry states to get to 270+. Or NM+CO+IA+Kerry states. And he can very well win all three - VA, CO and IA.

Also, do check out the Pollster.com pages for NC, IN, MT - and also GA/AK. Enough people line up behind Bob Barr in GA and... oh yeah.


richard pollara:

RS: You can have that debate with Nate Silver but my opinion is that a candidate who sweeps Oh, MI and Pa is the certain winner. Whomever carries two out of three is the very likely winner. When Obama supporters start talking about some of the states you have mentioned it is a prima facia case that the campaign has let their hubris overrule their judgment.



@richard pollara:
Nate Silver is good at what he does, but he isn't G-d. There are (many) polls that support my point of view, and that is why I ask you to check out the data that is available right here on Pollster.com. If you are somehow unable or unwilling to do that, here's a sampling:

MT: Rasmussen 7/1: Obama 48, McCain 43
NC: Pollster average: McCain 46, Obama 44
IN: Pollster average: McCain 43, Obama 42.4

So why the heck should Obama focus on just your favorite states, and ignore MT/NC/IN? One of the reasons I preferred Obama is that he's willing to look far beyond "Kerry+1" that so many Dems (including Clinton) are hidebound to. Sorry, this just isn't a contest between the United States of Canada and Jesusland, much as you might wish.

Also, the 'arrogance, hubris, elitism' narrative is very convenient, but just not true - not when there's data that proves otherwise.



arrogance, hubris and elitism.

bear in mind RS that these descriptions have never sought their target in Mccain.
it is however, for the undecideds, and even those
who will vote for obama, a story that gathers momentum as we head into the conventions.

he no longer straddles the religio/politico line that he heard and admired so often at Wright's feet. He is becoming, sadly his surrogate father and bringing more and more of this kind of dangerous religio/symbolic speak into his platform.

hubris is sneaky and it has snuck up on obama.
elitism is a fact borne out by his education and professional choices as well as the company you keep.

BUT arrogance is a characteristic of personality that manifests in the tone of one's delivery and that he has in spades, RS.


RJS in CO:

One thing I am curious about that no one seems to be discussing anywhere when it comes to spending patterns.....

McCain, because he is accepting campaign financing, cannot spend his primary money after the RNC convention. Obama can. I believe this is the reason McCain is outspending Obama at the moment. He has to. This will likely change in a dramatic fasion in September and October.



interesting fact.


richard pollara:

One other thought: McCain has spent no money in Florida since June 3, 2008. It is pretty odd that the 4th biggest state in the country and one that has been ground zero in the last two election cycles is being ignored. It is sort of like the dog that doesn't bark. My only explanation is that maybe McCain thinks it isn't in play. But the only way Florida is not in play is if Charile Crist is the VP Nominee. Maybe the ad buys really do tell us something....



Oh, this is rich: Obama's educational and professional choices reflect his elitism? Just because he was smart and hard-working enough to go to Columbia and Harvard, and be hired by the University of Chicago? Maybe Obama should have flunked his way through school, graduating 5th from the bottom of his class of 900, or relied on Daddy to get him into Yale, or married a wealthy heiress to bankroll his career.

Perhaps the real rich-and-elite of this world don't understand - the only way for people of modest background - no family money, no family name - to make it in this world is through education at the best schools possible. Ain't no rich Daddy or Sugar-Mommy gonna bail you out.

boskop, I know you have been anti-Obama since the Democratic primaries... Which is OK, and through such-tinted lenses shall you perceive Obama. Whatever.

More importantly, what is becoming apparent, is that folks generally don't like Obama acting uppity. After all, who does he think he is?!



Its interesting to compare the advertising efforts to the battleground state rankings at

According to the election-projection.net rankings, McCain's buy in Wisconsin is a waste of money--this state is unlikely to swing the outcome of the election. Conversely, Obama's advertising in Florida seems to be a very good use of resources--this state is second only to Ohio in its likelihood of swinging the election.

Both candidates efforts in West Virginia would also appear to be for naught, and Obama's efforts in Georgia and Alaska appear to be marginal at this moment.

The remaining states appear to be right "on the money".



@richard pollara

You can easily test your hypothesis using election-projection.net's
Interactive Presidential Election Probability Calculator

Giving PA 100% to Obama and MI and OH 100% to McCain, Obama still has a 75% chance of winning the election as it currently stands. With McCain winning all three, Obama still has a 40% chance of winning the election.


richard pollara:

Allen: As I mentioned to RS earlier you can take the numbers up with Nate Silver but his scenario analysis shows little chance for either candidate if they lose both Ohio and Michigan. Despite all the talk of realignment and electoral map shifts this election is likely to be decided in a few medium sized towns in Ohio and Michigan. Unfortunately, as the primaries showed, these are the areas where Mr. Obama is weakest. Imitating JFK in Berlin and floating the Tim Kaine trial balloon did little to increase his support in Saginaw or Toledo. I believe that Obama is very vulnerable candidate. He is made more so by those around him who encourage the myth of Montana. This election is going to be decided in Youngstown and not Butte, Toledo not Terra Haute. If John Kerry had poured the necessary resources into Ohio he might have been elected (despite running one the worst campaigns in my lifetime). Obama should not make the same mistake. Poll numbers in late July don't mean much. Just ask President Dukakis.



An interesting article, to be sure.

The election can be analyzed either from a state by state POV, in which case you extrapolate up to a national outcome. That's what this article and thread aim at, via the surrogate of advertising dollars.

Or, it can be analyzed from a set of national poll numbers, in which case you extrapolate down to individual states. The most recent CNN numbers show Obama with a 7 point national lead.

If, and it's a big if, the 7 point national lead is correct, then playing the state by state game is irrelevant. Whatever states Obama might lose will more than be made up for by unexpected wins.

On the other hand, a closer national race, say a one or two point lead by either candidate, would necessitate a more micro level scrutiny of each state.

I guess my point is that so long as either candidate is ahead by more than 5 points, the advertising in each state is largely an academic exercise ... at least for the time being. :)

Still, the advertising information is useful to have because it provides some insight into the game strategy of both camps.



Gary Kilbride:

Disagree. By far the most important data I saw today was an obscure poll on CNN, indicating 40% think McCain has attacked unfairly to 22% applying that to Obama.

That's a likability ratio, as I've posted here before. And the 22% is astoundingly low. It's certain to rise but as long as Obama leads in that category I don't see how he can fail. It's natural teflon. Gore and Kerry always lagged Bush in that question and it was ominous. When you like someone you don't assess anything they've done as unfair.


Clint Cooper:


The guy could have taken an easy six-figure job anywhere on Wall Street with his creds, but he instead chose to be an extremely low-paying community organizer in Chicago. That hardly strikes me as elitist.

And I LOVE the way Michael Smerconish and Rachel Maddow DESTROYED this silly "arrogance" meme today on the David Gregory MSNBC program. They used FACTS, LOGIC, and EVIDENCE unlike Pat Buchanan who just blows hot air these days.


Florida Voter:

It's only July 31st and the McCain campaign is desperate. Luckily here in Florida we haven't seen the nasty commercials, actually funny commercials he is running. But negativity does have a history of working in American Politics. So it will be interesting to see what the polls show in the coming weeks, etc.. With so many states in play this year, it's going to be tough for McCain to stick to his nastiness. I'm still not sure what McCain's plans are for the US and the world. He flip-flops so much it gets confusing.



@richard pollara

"Take the numbers up with Nate Silver" would seem to mean that you are both unaware of his methodology and would prefer to remain ignorant.

In Nate's approach, Ohio and Michigan appear to be key to the election because they are strongly correlated to other states. In other words, losing Ohio and Michigan in Nate's model would also mean losing other states like Pennsylvania, and possible New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, etc. There is no way in Nate's approach to independently measure the effect of a single state, because assumed correlations between states are built into the model.

Nate's approach however is fundamentally wrong because it fails to take into account the factor that Mark has described as the single most important factor: the candidates' campaign activities. Advertising in Ohio has no effect on public opinion in Pennsylvania, and vice-versa. The interstate and National correlations work only if you assume no campaign activities or identical campaign activities in all states, which we know is not the case, and for that reason, Nate's model is fundamentally wrong.

If you want to get the right answer to the question of which states are most important for the candidates to focus their resources, you need to look at the election without assuming state-to-state or national-to-state correlations, and Nate's model does not do this.



This election season is like watching a chess game. If you know the game, you can spot the winning or losing moves early on.

If one of the candidates is being accused of being arrogant, it is because, as in the primary, he and his team can see how the game plays out no matter what moves the other side makes.

That other side is made of hostile amateurs from an ill reputed team. Remember the nasty kid who would trash the game board when he was the last to see his impending defeat?

We're already there.


Obama was counting delegates - and since March it was impossible for
Hillary to catch up - she spent 30 million in a hopeless cause. Now its

electoral votes not national polls - see Pollster.com for the map - The

media can't add - unless something impossible happens the republican
can't win - the brand is gone - JFK lost the bible belt on a anti-
catholic vote but won the cities with Catholics - Obama will not do
well in the bible belt but minority votes will carry him where it
matters - (WASP are also a minority) BUT the media has to keep talking
until someone says "it's over" the fat lady has sung - like in
Vietnam, and TIM with Hillary - the numbers and facts are hard things

The reason national polls are misleading is the distribution between

states. If party R wins states by 55% or more their voters are compact.

If party D winds by 51% it doesn't waste votes but spreads them around

just enough to win. This is the key to districting (gerrymandering)

make safe districts and compact your opposition into as high a

percentage as possible so they waste votes over 50% - The red states

are very red while the blue states are more even - except New York,

California, Illinois and Mass..

Obama has the 270 electoral voles tied up and a another 100 likely


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