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4 How Race Context Matters D IFFERENT CAMPAIGNS for office take on vastly different characters. Consider the general election race for president in the year 2000. Al Gore and George W. Bush were neck and neck in the polls for many months, and media coverage of the campaign was extensive, occupying the lead story on television news broadcasts many nights. And advertising, at least in the battleground states, was hard to avoid. If you lived in Albuquerque, for instance, you potentially could have seen 9,132 ads touting one of the presidential candidates on your television screen between July 1 and Election Day. Most Americans knew plenty about the two men vying for the presidency. A CBS News poll taken in mid-July found that only 9 percent of Americans felt they had not heard enough about Gore to have an opinion of him. That number had fallen slightly, to 5 percent , by the week before the election. For Bush, the numbers were similar. Thirteen percent of respondents said in July that they had not heard enough about Bush to have an opinion of him; 5 percent was the comparable figure the week before Election Day. Given that most voters held an opinion of these candidates months before the election—and given the intensity of news coverage of them—one wonders how much room advertising had to shape people’s opinions of the candidates. 52 Î Chapter 4 Contrast this presidential race with the race for U.S. Senate being held in West Virginia the same year. Robert Byrd, the incumbent Democrat, swept to re-election with almost 78 percent of the vote. Byrd had served in the Senate for forty-two years at that time and was probably as well known in West Virginia as the president of the United States. His Republican challenger, David Gallaher, by contrast, was little known before entering the political race—he owned an electrical and general contracting company. Moreover, the news media did little to increase the public’s knowledge of him. Our search of the Lexis– Nexis electronic newspaper database was able to locate a single mention of Gallaher between July 1 and Election Day in the Charleston Daily Mail, a newspaper based in the state’s capital city. The Associated Press in West Virginia mentioned his name just three times during the same four-month period. Gallaher aired not a single political ad in the Charleston–Huntington media market, the only West Virginia media market tracked by the Wisconsin Advertising Project in 2000. Byrd, however, did air an ad touting his history of accomplishments in the state; it aired 420 times. Given how well known Byrd was, however, the money he spent on the ad was likely wasted. Perhaps best capturing the mood of the race was an Associated Press headline a few days before voting commenced: “West Virginia’s Senior Senator up for Re-election; Who Knew?” Now consider a third type of race—one that started out with a challenger who was not all that well known but about whom voters assuredly learned a lot through the course of the campaign. Democrat Debbie Stabenow was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, one of sixteen serving Michigan, before launching her Senate campaign against the incumbent Republican Spencer Abraham in 2000. The race turned out to be highly competitive, and there was ample opportunity for voters to learn about Stabenow. She was mentioned in eighty-nine articles in the Detroit News between July 1 and Election Day, just a few shy of the ninety-eight articles that mentioned Abraham . Moreover, the airwaves were filled with political ads. Abraham and his allies aired an average of just under 4,000 ads in each of Michigan ’s top media markets between July 1 and Election Day, while Stabenow aired an average of 3,650 ads in those same markets. On November 7, Stabenow defeated Abraham by 1.5 percentage points. It How Race Context Matters D 53 was a race in which advertising likely had a large impact in teaching voters who Debbie Stabenow was and shaping their opinions of her. These three different campaigns from 2000 point to the wide variety of race contexts that exists. In Chapter 2, we laid out expectations about how the context of the race would influence the effectiveness of political advertising. Let us review them now. The elements of our context hypothesis suggest the following: Senate general election ads should have a greater persuasive...


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