The Virginia Ad Campaign

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION feature made possible thanks to video assistance from the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

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Sept. 28
The Campaigns and Their Allies [CLICK to link]

Sample 55 ads (30.0 min.).
12 groups - 31 political ads (18.0 min.):
Presidential (14): Obama (5), Romney (2), RNC (3), Am. for Job Security (2), Priorities USA Action (2).  ...(9.5 min.)
VA Senate (8): Kaine (4), DSCC (2).
Crossroads GPS (1), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (1).   ...(4.0 min.)

Question 7 (8): Yes on 7 (4), No on 7 (4).  ...(4.0 min.)
More (1): Sobhani for Senate (1).  ...(0.5 min.)


This survey is based on "News4 at 5 pm" and "News4 at 6 pm" local newscasts on WRC Channel 4, the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC, which covers Northern Virginia as well as DC and Maryland.  Each hour-long newscast typically had six ad breaks.  The 6 p.m. broadcast led into the "NBC Nightly News."  On the weekends the evening newscasts were reduced or eliminated due to sports programming.

Typical ad breaks went for two to three minutes, most commonly for two-and-a-half minutes comprising five 30-second spots.  In addition to the 30-second spots, there were 15-second spots (usually two 15-second spots from the same advertiser were run in an ad break, one at the beginning and one at the end), and a few advertisers rand 10-second spots and one-minute spots.  A two-minute spot and a 90-second spot were also noted.

Unlike other local newscasts reviewed in past by Democracy in Action, WRC also had some five-second spots.  (One, for attorney Mike Slocum, featured actor William Shatner.  Others included the announcer stating "Michael and Son Services: dependable service since 1976,"  "Sponsored by Mattress Warehouse, Where Sleep Happens" and "Serving the military and their families: Navy Federal Credit Union" over appropriate graphics.  A five-second TD Bank displayed the time and temperature).  A similar 10-second ad had "tomorrow's sunrise time from Sleepy's."  There seemed to be two or three of the five-second spots in each day's video.  They were not considered in this analysis although one can argue they should have been.

Along with the full-fledged ads run during the broadcasts, WRC Channel 4 ran various and sundry sponsored station promos, promos for WRC Channel 4 programming and for NBC programming.  (There were a lot of these ranging from "News 4 Today is working for you..." to "On the next 'Access Hollywood'" as well as station identified public service spots, for example several promoting the station's Wednesday's Child adoption effort and others for AIDS Walk Washington).  These also were not considered in the analysis.  

Methodology and Limitations
This survey is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all campaign and political ads run during the last month of the Virginia campaign.  First, as noted above, Northern Virginia stations ran ads from the Maryland campaigns which would not have been seen in other Virginia markets.  Reviewing larger blocks of time and/or other program segments on WRC, or reviewing other stations covering Northern Virginia or cable TV would have found a different mix of political ads.  In sum this is a review of ads appearing on the two evening news broadcasts on one station in the Northern Virginia market in the final month of the campaign.

The newscasts were recorded daily by a helpful volunteer.  A few days were missing.  Sometimes the recordings began part way into the 5 p.m. broadcast (start time was between 5 and 5:30 p.m.); with one exception they ran through to the end of the 6 p.m. broadcasts.  Weekends were not considered in the data; as noted above those broadcasts are atypical, often shorter or run at odd times or abbreviated due to sports programming.

Presidential campaigns, Senate campaigns, outside groups including party committees and super PACs, and supporters and opponents of ballot questions waged an intense ad war on Northern Virginia television in the final month leading to Election Day.  Ads were seen from the presidential race, the Virginia Senate race, Maryland Question 7 (gambling), Maryland Question 6 (same sex marriage), the Maryland Senate race, and the Maryland 6th CD race.1 During the month-plus ads from 26 different groups were seen, and the number of different groups running ads on a given day ranged from 12 at the start of the study to 18 in the final week.

The gross numbers give as sense of the intensity of advertising in various races.  Excluding weekends and days missing the complete "News4 at 6," the sample includes newscasts on 23 days in the period from Sept. 28 to Nov. 5.  A total of 250 ad breaks contained 1,239 total ads comprising 607.3 ad minutes (10.12 hours).  Of those ads, 923 comprising 478.5 minutes (7.98 hours) were political ads.  Thus for the last month of the campaign, 74.5-percent of the ads and 78.9-percent of the ad time on these newscasts consisted of political ads. (The difference arises because the commercial ads include shorter 15-second ads and the political ads include longer one-minute and even a two-minute ad).  The overall sample included slightly more ads/ad time from the Virginia Senate race, followed by the presidential race and then Maryland Question 7 (gambling).  Other political ads, accounting for about 6-percent of ads/ad time, were from the Maryland Question 6 (same sex marriage) and Maryland Senate, and, right at the close, the Delaney for Congress (MD-6) campaign.


The density of campaign ads increased to to the point that in the days before Election Day nearly every ad was a political ad.  Given the demand, WRC Channel 4 might have increased the total time it devoted to advertising.  However that did not happen until the final week when the station appeared to add one additional 30-second slot, a very marginal increase. 

The two-hour block of local news examined in this study typically contained about 60 ads comprising a tad less than half an hour of total ad time (as noted above, station promos and 5-second ads were ignored).  On the first day considered, Sept. 28, the two-hour sample contained 55 ads of which 31 were political ads (56.4%).  In terms of ad time, the ads totaled 30.0 minutes; 18.0 minutes (60.0%) were political ads.  On Oct. 26, ten days before Election Day, the number of political ads/total political ad time exceeded 90% for the first time. On Nov. 1 every ad in the two-hour sample was a political ad (61 of 61 ads totaling 31.0 minutes). 



Presidential campaign ads as a share of total remained fairly stable throughout the study at a bit over one-quarter by ad number and time.  The "volume" of other political ads increased throughout the month.  Thus at the beginning of the study, there were more ads from the presidential contest than from the Virginia Senate race, but in the closing weeks the number of Virginia Senate ads exceeded the number of presidential ads.  Other political ads includes Maryland Senate (all but one Sobhani), Maryland Question 6 ("no" ads first seen Oct. 8 and "yes" ads on Oct. 15 and these continued at a low level) and Delaney for Congress (first seen Oct. 31).

For this small sample (two newscasts on one station in one market in covering Northern Virginia over a month-plus), the Romney campaign and its allies spent more on advertising than did the Obama campaign and its allies.  Restore Our Future and American Crossroads were the biggest backers of Romney and Priorities USA Action was the main group supporting Obama.  

Advertising by Obama/Allies and Romney/Allies on WRC 5 and 6 p.m. Sept. 28-Nov. 5


# ads

ad min.


1. Sample includes ads from 26 groups.
By type:
Presidential-Obama and Allies: Obama for America, Planned Parenthood Votes, Priorities USA Action.
Presidential-Romney and Allies: Romney for President (and RNC/Romney coordinated),
RNC (independent expenditure), American Crossroads, Americans for Job Security, Restore Our Future.
VA Senate-R: Allen for Senate,
NRSC, Crossroads GPS, Independence Virginia PAC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
VA Senate-D: Kaine for Senate, DCCC, Majority PAC, AFSCME PEOPLE / SEIU COPE / NEA Fund for...
Maryland: Yes on 7, No on 7.  Yes on 6, No on 6.  Sobhani for Senate, Bogino for Senate.  Delaney for Congress.

In the marquee Kaine-Allen Senate race, the Allen campaign ran very little on WRC Channel 4, possibly concentrating its resources on other markets.  There were plenty of ads from outside groups supporting both Allen and Kaine. Subjectively speaking Kaine's ads seemed the most effective of any of the groups running ads.  Just about every ad featured the candidate talking to the camera.  One featured Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner (D) together.  An interesting Kaine ad from the end of October, "Indivisible" went to the difficulty Democrats sometimes have difficulty with faith voters; the ad opened with elementary school students in a classroom finishing the Pledge of Allegiance "...under God, indivisible with liberty..."

Maryland Question 7, the gaming expansion referendum, inspired a titanic advertising battle.  The Washington Post reported that, "In total, gambling interests spent more than $90 million at a rate of over $1 million a day, making the fight over the Maryland ballot measure one of the costliest in history."  See: Aaron C. Davis and T.W. Farnam, "Media buyers hit jackpot with Md. gambling battle." The Washington Post, Nov. 18, 2012.  According to the article, Penn National Gaming, which operates a casino in West Virginia, bankrolled the No on 7 effort ("Get the Facts").  MGM Resorts International, which wants to build a facility in Prince George's County, MD, funded the Yes on 7 effort ("Maryland Jobs & Schools, Inc.").

Question 6 saw relatively few ads from two groups, Marylanders for Marriage Equality (Yes on 6) and the Maryland Marriage Alliance (No on 6).

There were also ads from two other Maryland races. Rob Sobhani, an independent candidate challenging Sen. Ben Cardin (D), ran a steady ad campaign throughout this period.  One 90-second ad from the Republican candidate, Dan Bongino, was observed.  John Delaney, a Democrat challenging Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) in the 6th CD, went up in the final week.

2. In terms of the number of groups running political ads, a question arises as to how to count coordinated ads, for example run by Romney for President and the RNC or by George Allen for U.S. Senate/NRSC or Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate/DSCC.  These are distinct from the independent expenditure ads run by the party committees.  Coordinated ads are de facto campaign ads, but paid for by the party committees so the decision was made to consider these ads as being campaign committee ads.

Also, three unions (SEIU COPE, AFSCME PEOPLE and the NEA Fund for Children & Public Education or NEA Advocacy Fund) coordinated to run identical ads in the Virginia Senate race; the only difference was the disclaimer at the end of the ad.  These were treated as three groups.

Eric M. Appleman/Dec. 3, 2012


Friday, September 28
5 p.m.:
Ad Break #1: Obama, PNC Bank, Yes on 7, Qatar Airways, No on 7.
Ad Break #2: Fairfax Hyundai (:15), Kaine, SunTrust, Boston Market, RNC, Fairfax Hyundai (:15).
Ad Break #3: Ruby Tuesday (:15), DSCC, GMC, Obama, Priorities USA Action, Ruby Tuesday (:15).
Ad Break #4: Americans for Job Security, PNC Bank, Romney (1min), Mazda, No on 7.
Ad Break #5: RNC, Volkswagen, Qatar Airways, Yes on 7, Pepco (:15).
Ad Break #6: Kaine, Buick, Obama (2min).
28 ads totaling 15.75 min. 
15 political ads (53.6%) totaling 9.5 min. (60.3%).
8 presidential ads (28.6%) totaling 6.0 min. (38.1%).

6 p.m.:
Ad Break #1: Kaine, Honda, Yes on 7, Romney (1min).
Ad Break #2: Crossroads GPS (Sen.), Mazda, Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, No on 7.
Ad Break #3: Honda, Obama, U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Sen.), Qatar Airways, Yes on 7.
Ad Break #4: Americans for Job Security, Nissan, Priorities USA Action, Kaine, DSCC.
Ad Break #5: No on 7, Toyota, Pepco (:15), Qatar Airways, Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, Rob Sobhani for Senate.
Ad Break #6: RNC, Honda, RoomStore, Obama.
27 ads totaling 14.25 min.
16 political ads (59.3%) totaling 8.5 min. (59.6%).
6 presidential ads (23.0%) totaling 3.5 min. (25.9%).

Grand Total for Sept. 28:
55 ads totaling 30.0 min.
31 political ads (56.4%) totaling 18.0 min. (60.0%).
14 presidential ads (25.5%) totaling 9.5 min. (31.7%).
{Obama 5 (4.0 min.), Romney 2 (2.0 min.), RNC 3 (1.5 min.), Americans for Job Security 2 (1.0 min.), Priorities USA Action 2 (1.0 min.)}
8 VA Senate ads (14.5%) totaling 4.0 min. (13.3%)
8 Question 7 ads (14.5%) totaling 4.0 min. (13.3%)
1 additional ad totaling 0.5 min.

Saturday, September 29

Sunday, September 30

News4 at 6  6:30-7 p.m.:
Ad Break #1: DSCC, No on 7, NRSC.
Ad Break #2: Sheehy Ford (:15), Yes on 7, Americans for Job Security,
Priorities USA Action, Sheehy Ford (:15).
Ad Break #3: RNC, Hyundai, No on 7,
Romney (1min).