How a Polarized Electorate Influences Political Advertising Decisions

Plus, why politicians are so good at using data

Our country is more divided than ever.
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It’s no secret that our country is undergoing significant change at breakneck speed—changes in technology, changes in demographics and, of course, changes in the media. All of these factors have played a part in the increasingly polarized nature of our political discourse.

During an Advertising Week panel Monday, political advertising experts and members of the media discussed how these changes are affecting how political organizations choose where to place their ads.

“Politics is one of the earliest adopters of using data for targeting on the paid media side,” said Brent McGoldrick, CEO of GOP-contracted data analytics firm Deep Root Analytics. “Your average congressional campaign does a lot more with data and analytics targeting than your average brand.”

McGoldrick continued, “Part of that is because in politics, we have great first-party data. Say what you want about political campaigns, but every political campaign from president down to city council has a list. They know who their customers are, and I’m really struck when we work with brands, that unless they come from certain verticals, they often don’t have a very good concept of who their customers truly are.”

Global Strategy Group founder and president Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic strategist and pollster, had a slightly different take. He contended that political campaigns have been a bit late to the game in how they utilize new technologies to target potential voters, but that progress is being made.

“Political campaigns are finally getting more involved in social listening, meaning taking what people are actually saying on their social media feeds, as opposed to just calling them up and asking them their opinions,” Pollock said.

While figuring out which voter blocs to target and how to target them was a significant part of the conversation, the discussion segued into the types of outlets advertisers attach themselves to.

Reuters digital executive editor Dan Colarusso wasn’t quite as optimistic about the notion of “persuadable voters” as his fellow panelists were.

“I worry about the demonization of the media, but what I worry even more about is the negation of the truth,” he said. “The ability for enough microtargeted information to get out via social platforms or via some of the more partisan outlets on either side, to take something that’s obvious, but then to say that it isn’t happening and for enough of a groundswell to show up at these places, makes our job harder. [It] puts us in situations where we end up being the proxy for ‘the establishment,’ against which people are rebelling.”

Colarusso said partisan outlets not only hurt what Reuters does, but they also influence the decisions political advertisers will need to make in the future.

“We can’t break great news and perform six-month deep dives into significant stories if the readers aren’t there,” he said.