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Michigan political ads focus on six propositions

By Tui Rademaker, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 23, 2012

Though many television viewers in Michigan have grown irate by the inundation of campaign advertisements leading up to Election Day, they may have noticed that a decreasing number of them are for the two presidential candidates.

Experts said the decision among campaign organizations affiliated with the candidates to not spend money on political ads within the state signifies that Michigan is not a swing state. Still, viewers are sure to get their dose of political ads, as supporters and opponents of the state’s six ballot initiatives have been quick to fill the airwaves that would otherwise have been dominated by presidential campaign efforts.

Nicholas Valentino, a professor of political science and a political communication expert, said that while ads are by no means the greatest determinant of votes, they do often have the ability to influence up to 1-2 percent of the electorate.

“The biggest way in which advertisements can influence the vote is actually when one candidate runs out of money in a state and stops spending, and the other one maintains a presence,” Valentino said. “It’s that persistent visibility in the state that’s important and that ads can really help with.”

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, nonpartisan groups that track campaign spending, reported that pro-Romney groups, particularly the political action committees Restore our Future and American Crossroads, spent $10.9 million on political advertisements in the state prior to Sept. 6. Since then, those organizations and the Romney campaign have discontinued their television ads in Michigan in an effort to focus attention and resources on other key states as Obama continues to grow his lead in polling.

On Sunday, Obama was leading Romney 52 percent to 44 percent among likely voters in Michigan, according to a CNN/ORC poll.

Those numbers were met with no response from the Obama campaign or pro-Obama interest groups, who have spent no money on TV advertising within Michigan to date. Robinson said if viewers do see presidential advertisements at this time, they would be on national cable networks or major news channels.

Valentino said the lack of presence from both presidential campaigns on the airwaves clearly points to decrease in the competitiveness of the race in Michigan.

“A better indication that Michigan is competitive will be when the Obama campaign spends money, because right now they don’t feel a need to,” Rich Robinson, executive director of MCFN, said.

According to Robinson, Restore our Future will go back to airing pro-Romney ads for the next few weeks, a move that he said he believes is strategically smart.

Valentino said this careful distribution of nationwide advertisements is part of a growing trend to exclusively target voters in important swing states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Florida and Virginia.

“Many Americans will see no political ads whatsoever or very few and other Americans will be absolutely inundated, seeing more than 10 per person, (or) 20 different ads in the course of the last several weeks of the campaign,” Valentino said.

As of Sunday, neither the Obama nor Romney campaigns had replied to requests for comment.

Even with an increased reliance on social media campaigning, as well as door-to-door outreach, Robinson estimates that approximately two-thirds of a campaign’s budget is typically spent on TV advertising.

However, MCFN reported that more than 70 percent of Romney’s advertising is sponsored by undisclosed donors in the form of 501(c)(4) corporations that, unlike PACs and SuperPACs, do not disclose their financial reports or donors.

Robinson said ads that discuss the unsuitability of a candidate rather than explicitly telling viewers to vote for them are typically funded by the 501(c)(4) corporations.

Advocates and opponents of Proposition 3 in Michigan, which would require all electric power companies to provide 25 percent of their services from renewable resources by 2025, have raised about $8.9 million, $6.2 million of which is in opposition, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a political spending tracking group.

To date, the oppositional funding has come from the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition, whose primarily donors include DTE and CMS Energy — the parent organization of Consumers Energy.

Robinson also noted that Proposition 6, which would require voter consent on new bridges and tunnels between Michigan and Canada, will continue to have a large presence on statewide TV. Robinson said the Moroun family — of which Matty Moroun owns the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor — spent $10 million on TV ads promoting the measure even before it was on the ballot.

“They’ll continue to spend their half million (dollars) a week right up until Election Day,” Robinson said.

Valentino predicted that Proposition 2, which would protect the right for unions to collectively bargain, will get significant airtime due to its controversial nature.

Protect Our Jobs, the committee supporting the collective bargaining ballot initiative, has already raised $8,143,307 with the support of numerous Michigan unions, according to MCFN. The committee had spent $1,153,619 as of July.