Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2023


Oh, those politicians have so many ways of getting our attention

They can pay as little as $85 for a TV spot, 25 grand for a newspaper ad or ask a volunteer named Mary to write letters to voters.

Election Day is three months away, but it might seem like voting begins next week with the amount of advertising, from handwritten letters to attack ads, bombarding voters on a daily basis.

The Sun talked to political experts and major campaigns in Nevada about the tactics political campaigns use to influence voters.


This category of campaign advertising covers everything that leaves the airwaves and is not tailored to the individual voter, said Eric Herzig, chairman of UNR’s political science department.

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, more than $224 million already has been spent on ads for the 2012 presidential campaign, $11.5 million of it in the Las Vegas region. About 70 percent of the advertising is negative.


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Screen shot of a commercial that speaks out against Shelley Berkley paid for by American Crossroads, Thursday, July 19, 2012.

If you have flipped on the television during the election season, you probably have seen these advertisements: Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, outsources jobs overseas. President Barack Obama says the private sector is doing fine in the worst recession in decades.

In Nevada, you would think Obama and Romney were running for governor and the election was next week, said Ted Jelen, a UNLV political science professor.

Television is perhaps the primary vehicle for reaching voters because it’s the medium most people turn to for political information, Herzig said.

He said the volume of advertising in the presidential race is higher than he has ever seen this early in the campaign, with both candidates already running attack ads. Typically, the airwaves remain mostly silent until Labor Day, the traditional kickoff of heavy campaigning. Usually, a candidate’s early advertising is made up of positive, introductory statements, Herzig said.

That’s not happening in this year’s presidential campaign. Many of the ads, which are targeted almost exclusively to voters in swing states such as Nevada, also are targeted to the audience’s demographic, Herzig said. For instance, Obama might run an advertisement claiming Romney has declared a war on women for a more female-dominated audience during ABC’s “The View” while touting the killing of Osama Bin Laden on a more male-dominated audience on ESPN.

One group advertising heavily on television is the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action. The political action committee runs English- and Spanish-language ads on television, radio and the Internet, co-founder Bill Burton said.

Burton said the group’s main focus is television. Priorities USA stretches its dollars by buying advertising time early, when the rates are lowest, and runs ads when it can reach the most voters, often around popular television shows and newscasts, he said.

Ad time is purchased by the campaign, which selects the shows and/or slots when it wants its ads to run.

The Sun took a look at KVVU Channel 5’s contracts with political organizations. The Federal Communications Commission mandates those contracts to be open for public viewing. A typical 30-second ad on the Fox station can range from $85 for a 30-second spot during “Dr. Oz” to $275 for “5 News at 6 p.m.” and $2,800 for a prime-time advertisement during “The X Factor.”

In accordance with FCC rules, political rates must reflect the station’s lowest rate offered. The rates will go even lower Sept. 7 through Election Day, Nov. 6, as mandated by the FCC.


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Tom Brown, right, listens as possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania speaks during a live radio show at WEZS , Tuesday, March 29, 2011 in Laconia, N.H.

Candidates tend to focus the bulk of their radio advertisements on AM stations, figuring that people who listen to news and political talk shows also are most likely to vote, Herzig said.

Campaigns run ads on talk shows of the same political bent to reinforce listeners’ views, Herzig said.

The radio audience can be more segmented than television viewers, Jelen said. Demographics vary from pop to country channels, allowing radio ads to be more specific. For instance, a pop station likely will have a younger audience, allowing candidates to home in on issues affecting that age demographic, he said.

Furthermore, unless the listener has a remote on hand, radio is harder to tune out than television.

Burton said his approach to radio advertising is the same as with television. His radio ad buys focus only on the most competitive states in the nation, such as Nevada.

Radio stations, like television stations, also are subject to FCC regulations regarding political advertising. KLAV 1230-AM’s rates show, for instance, that political groups pay $25 per ad, the lowest unit rate offered at the station. On KDWN 720-AM, a 60-second ad for Mitt Romney costs the campaign $150; for 30 seconds, the cost is $100.

The Internet

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A screenshot shows how Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich utilized digital campaigning during the Nevada primary.

Ever wonder why you’re getting advertisements about the Nevada Senate race while scrolling through a website with a national audience?

As part of their geotargeting efforts, campaigns are running advertisements for a select audience, said Daniel Kreiss, an assistant journalism professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Websites can track the state where the user is accessing the Internet and place ads accordingly.

Another technique is targeting individual voters through their computers, Kreiss said. It takes more effort but works like this: A campaign would find out through phone calls or canvassing whether the voter is uncommitted. That information is given to advertising networks, which target the voter’s IP addresses — the networks say their work is 80 percent accurate — and send political ads to sites visited by those computer users, Kreiss said.

In the old days, parties kept phone trees; the faithful would call and keep in touch with 20 voters, Herzig said. The Internet also enables campaigns to reach large numbers of people.

Online advertisements work similarly to television ads and often can be spotted on a news website or search engine, Herzig said.

Anyone who has run a candidate’s name through a search engine probably has seen advertisements at the top of the results. For instance, during the Nevada presidential primary, Google users would see Mitt Romney’s website followed by Newt Gingrich’s campaign website attacking Romney for “falsehoods.”

Google also sells contextual advertising, in which a campaign can choose certain keywords, such as “health care,” and will have advertisements placed for them on relevant Web content. Google does not use a rate card for advertising; instead, advertisers bid for space at an ad auction, said Jake Parrillo, Google’s Midwest manager of global communications and public affairs.

Social Media

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Screen shot of Mitt Romney's Facebook campaign page on Thursday, July 19, 2012.

Initially, the Web was used as an inexpensive fundraising tool, said David Damore, a UNLV associate professor of political science. But now, there is the expectation for campaigns to incorporate social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Facebook provides a cost-efficient way to reach a younger demographic and people who might not be engaged in politics, he said. Twitter also enables candidates to respond immediately to a news story and shape news coverage.

When Obama ran for president in 2008, he was dismissed as a community organizer. But his experiences came in handy in the way he used social media to run a grass-roots campaign, Herzig said. Furthermore, Obama’s base of likely voters tends to be younger and more tech-savvy, Herzig said.

FreedomWorks, a conservative grass-roots organization led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is one of many political groups that use social media. On Facebook, FreedomWorks sends information to nearly 2 million followers. Those messages can be segmented according to what state they live in, said Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks. His organization can inform followers about local rallies and urge them to call their representatives about certain legislation or support a certain candidate.

Users also can set up a Web page under’s Freedom Connector to better connect with volunteers in their region and coordinate rallies, Steinhauser said.

Facebook charges using a cost-per-click model, in which the campaign pays only when a user clicks on the ad and is sent to the campaign website, Kreiss said.

The use of the Web also is increasing, with an estimated quarter of campaign ad budgets being targeted for online purposes.


This offensive adds a personalized touch to the campaign pitch, Herzig said. Although it depends on greater infrastructure and can cost more per vote, campaigns bet the personal touch will enhance a candidate’s appeal to voters. Much of the ground war is focused on getting people to vote, he said.

Newspaper Advertising

In 2002, the newspaper industry collected $35 million for political advertising. In 2010, the income increased to $300 million, much of it for online editions, said Tom Edmonds, a Washington-based political media consultant. What is the draw of newspapers? Eighty percent of voters 35 and older are regular readers of newspapers in print or online, Edmonds said.

At the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which distributes the Sun as part of a joint operating agreement, all political advertising gets a 14 percent discount off the standard rate card charge.

There is no advertising in the Sun’s print edition.

Adjusting for the discount, a full-page political print ad in the Review-Journal costs $21,590 in black and white or $24,587 in color. Half-page advertising is $11,120 in black and white or $14,117 in color.


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Steve Horsford talks with volunteers before walking door to door on the campaign trail in 2008.

Canvassing — the direct, door-to-door pitch to voters — is as old as representative politics, Herzig said.

Canvassing also is the most targeted approach, as canvassers often will have a grid directing them to the home of voters registered in their party or independents, Herzig said.

Typically, the canvasser will knock on the door, hand out a flier and ask the occupant whether he or she plans to vote, Herzig said. If the occupant says yes and plans to vote for the opponent, the canvasser might ask why and address questions the voter has. For instance, if an Obama canvasser hears the voter say he plans to vote for Romney because of jobs, the canvasser might respond that Romney outsourced jobs in his tenure at Bain Capital. If the voter responds that Obama is a Kenyan socialist, the canvasser probably will thank the person for his or her time, then leave. However, if the person is persuadable, the canvasser might return a few more times to try to seal the vote.

The downfall of canvassing is that it takes a lot of organization and is cost effective only if there are enough volunteers, Herzig said.


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Volunteers at the McCain-Palin headquarters in Henderson make phone calls to local constituents during the 2008 campaign.

A good campaign phone call is not a cold call but preaches to the choir, Herzig said. For instance, a Republican Women’s Club might have a roster of Republican voters and call to encourage them to vote as opposed to trying to persuade a Democrat who has voted in every election to vote Republican.

Robocalls are automated calls to voters in which a prerecorded message supporting a candidate or cause is played. Robocalls often are recorded by the candidate, a celebrity or a well-known supporter. The downfall of robocalls is that it’s easier for a recipient to hang up on a machine than a volunteer, Herzig said.

Push polls, in which a campaign worker poses as a pollster and asks loaded questions such as “would it make you less likely to vote for a candidate if you knew this about them?” are an ugly, expensive tactic that might not be that effective, Herzig said.

The Shelley Berkley for Senate campaign has set up the Women for Shelley and Latinos for Shelley phone banks specifically to target these demographics, said Colin Milligan, press secretary for the Berkeley campaign. Using Nevada State Democratic Party voter files, volunteers target Democratic and independent women and Hispanics, sharing stories about why they support Berkley. For instance, a volunteer working with Latinos for Shelley might bring up Berkley’s support for the Dream Act.

Mailings and Fliers

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Mailboxes are lined up in the Old Town subdivision in Kyle Canyon on Mount Charleston Thursday, April 5, 2012.

Mailings and fliers are a “scatter-gun approach” sent to a number of homes in the hopes that their message will resonate with voters, Herzig said.

Handwritten notes, like canvassing, are costly — unless done by volunteers — but might make up for it in effectiveness. A personalized message, such as, “I stopped by today and am sorry we missed you,” also might have a greater appeal to voters.

Independent voters have been receiving what appear to be personal letters from the Dean Heller for Senate campaign. In one such letter, a volunteer named “Mary” writes in blue ink asking a voter for support. “Dean is working hard to put Nevadans back to work,” the letter, which uses the voter’s name three times, reads in cursive. The campaign did not respond to requests to talk to “Mary.”

Public Displays

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Precinct captain and chair of the Nevada Democratic Black Caucus Yvette Williams and her daughter Alyse Williams plant an Obama campaign sign.

These fronts in the ground war reflect a more personalized commitment, Herzig said. A lawn sign or bumper sticker tells neighbors which candidate a voter is supporting. Since people increasingly are getting their political information on social networking sites such as Facebook, a profile picture supporting a candidate will let friends know where they stand, he said.

Lawn signs, bumper stickers and profile pictures might not be as effective in persuasion as in mobilization, Jelen said. These signs indicate to other supporters that they are not alone. If someone sees more signs and bumper stickers supporting their candidate in their community, they are more likely to feel they are on the winning side and talk about the candidate, he said.

For about a dollar apiece, FreedomWorks produces signs for candidates it supports, Steinhauser said. Once they are delivered, volunteers distribute them to build recognition for the candidate.

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