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Posts published in November 2006

The decline of television (political advertising)?

Could it be that technology may be bringing toward a close one of the central problems in American politics that earlier technology helped create?

The large problem is money - the massive amounts of money raised and spent in political campaigns, and which this year have broken all sorts of new records in the Northwest as elsewhere - most expensive governor's race in Idaho, most expensive Senate race (almost certainly) in Washington, most expensive House race ever in Idaho . . . on and on. Where money is a problem in politics, we clearly still are in the belly of the monster.

How is all that money spent - or, put another way, what do they need it for? The big component is broadcast, mostly television, advertising. For a generation, the political theory is that a candidate who can heavily outspend an opponent - which translates to, air many more TV spots than the opponent - will often win. (Of course, you have to factor in that many well-funded candidates get well funded because they are considered strong prospects to win.) Campaigns use money for other things too, but if you struck TV advertising off the budget, the size of many of those warchests would shrivel.

So: What if it turns out that TFV ads are simply becoming ineffective as opinion drivers, are no longer helping candidates win elections?

We'll get a more definitive read on that next Tuesday night. But if, for purposes of this discussion, we can assume that recent polls are reasonably predictive, then we may be seeing the early stages of decline in political TV advertising - which could turn out to be one of the best developments for years in the conduct of politics in this country. (more…)

A state on the bubble

Asecond Idaho poll - this one by Greg Smith, for KTVB-TV and the Idaho Business Review, shows almost exactly what last week's Mason Dixon did. About the only thing different was the degree of the most important factor: The undecided.

A surface reading in the governor's race shows Democrat Jerry Brady leading Republican Butch Otter, 41% to 36%; and in the 1st congressional district, it shows Democrat Larry Grant leading Republican Bill Sali, 38% to 34%. The closeness is absolutely startling; these figures, reflecting last week's poll (and following up in some ways from Smith's last poll in August) are unusual, different for Idaho than any polling result in the last dozen years.

And yet you'd be mistaken to shorthand these results as suggesting a probable razor-close finish. What's more likely is that one side or the other will win decisively. We just don't know which.

During those dozen years, since Idaho politics has been frozen in place - almost everything went to conservative Republicans, usually by big margins. Our observation during that time has been that matters would eventually change; politics does not remain static forever. When that change would come, has always been less clear.

Is this the year - in this year of failed local Republican candidacies against a backdrop of larger national Republican failures - the year of the Big Melt?

There's no perfect answer, because that depends on a good many Idaho people who haven't yet decided what to do about these races. In the governor's race, 20% of the voters call themselves undecided between Otter and Brady, and in the congressional, 25% between Sali and Grant. Those are unusually big undecided numbers for so late - this poll was conducted this week - in a campaign.

What they will do, we don't know. But the similar opinion patterns suggest that many of the same factors are causing that indecision; and we know that historically, late undecideds tend to break strongly one way or another, often because of some factor emerging in the last few days before an election.

Add the bulk of the 20% to either Otter's or Brady's numbers, for example, and you wind up with a big win - which, right now, seems more likely than a super-close result.

The catch is that there's almost no way to know - now - which way they will go. (more…)

Intensity central

After rolling around western Washington and Oregon in the tail end of this campaign season, we can isolate the geogrpahic area where politics has gone into overdrive: Bellevue, Washington.

signs at Bellevue

We've watched the action around Oregon and Idaho and other parts of Washington, nothing seems to match the visibility and intensity of politics on the east side of King County. Our runaround on the Eastside in the last couple of days was startling for . . . well, for the signage, to start with.

On major roads, there seem to be large areas of Bellevue where political signs probably average one for every five or six feet. On road islands (like this one) they're planted so thickly only the tall plants can see the sun. And there's no lack of yard signs in yards, either. Turnon the TV here (well, anywhere in the Seattle area) and you're swamped by political ads - clearly a heavier load of them than in Oregon or Idaho, or eastern Washington.

Part of all this no doubt comes from the mashup of close and hot races in this area. The hottest congressional race in Washington, probably in the Northwest, is here - based around Bellevue - in the Washington 8th district. On top of that, about a half-dozen of the dozen or so top legislative races in the state are based within a half-hour drive of Bellevue, to its north and south. The margins in the U.S. Senate race - which in contest isn't a tossup but in which margins are still at stake - will be settled to a considerable extent here. (more…)