Feb. 8, 2016
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Voter Overload and the Presidential Endgame

Itís not news that voters in presidential swing state media markets are being bombarded with political ads on television.

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, $13.6 million in presidential ads has aired so far in the Cleveland media market, $4.6 million in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and $15.2 million in Tampa, Fla.

And these numbers donít include the blizzard of words both on TV and in print that arenít paid ads but come from the campaigns and surrogates.

Of course, all of the advertising numbers (and arguing) will only grow between now and November. Itís not as if the campaigns are going to stop spending in crucial markets or the cable networks and Sunday shows are going to stop talking about the election.

So, while most observers focus on the content of particular ads or the larger campaign messages, itís worth considering the effect of the sheer number of commercials and point-of-view messages that voters will see in the handful of swing states that will select the nationís next president.

This is not a column that argues that early TV ads donít matter. While they donít seem to be moving opinion now, and Iím certainly skeptical of their value ó many voters are probably ignoring the ads and dismissing them as half-truths, distortions and embellishments ó itís impossible to know whether the early ads will have created a context for spots that resonate with key voters when the fall rolls around.

That said, itís indisputable that voters in swing states are drowning in a sea of arguments and statistics ó whether about health care reform, tax policy, job creation or presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romneyís record as governor of Massachusetts or role at Bain Capital ó most of them at odds with each other.

All of the advertising and coverage doesnít produce a more informed, educated or thoughtful electorate.

Instead, most voters, numb from the propaganda, simply default to their ďnaturalĒ partisan orientations. Republican voters choose to believe Romney, while Democrats fall in line behind President Barack Obama. As one consultant likes to say, voters are putting their team jerseys on early this cycle.

This is how partisans behave, but it is also how closet partisans, voters who say they are ďindependentĒ but actually have an attitudinal and behavioral partisan bent to one party or the other, act.

What is left is a small section of the electorate that is truly undecided. They are confused by the conflicting arguments and statistics. They donít know who or what to believe.

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