‘Gut’ Check

National Journal
Steven Shepard
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Steven Shepard
Jan. 23, 2014, 6:55 a.m.

It’s a com­plaint we’ve heard, mostly from next-gen­er­a­tion GOP con­sult­ant types: Cam­paigns spend all this money on tele­vi­sion and tra­di­tion­al ad­vert­ising without any real data to in­form their spend­ing. That’s the sub­ject of a new Cam­paigns & Elec­tions op-ed sub­mis­sion from Vin­cent Har­ris, a GOP new-me­dia con­sult­ant: “The Gut: Run­ning GOP cam­paigns since 1854.”

— “Gut in­stinct con­tin­ues to be the primary form of de­cision mak­ing with­in Re­pub­lic­an cam­paigns,” Har­ris writes, “some of which spend mil­lions of dol­lars on in­ef­fi­cient me­dia buys based on cam­paign meth­ods passed down through dec­ades of polit­ic­al lore.” We’ve heard the same thing. “TV’s the biggest line item in the budget but the least data-driv­en,” GOP data guru Alex Lun­dry told us last year, in re­sponse to the news that the NR­CC would be us­ing polls to bet­ter in­form its TV-ad spend­ing.

— But Har­ris, who headed up now-Sen. Ted Cruz‘s (R-TX) di­git­al ops in 2012, sees little evid­ence this is hap­pen­ing thus far dur­ing the 2014 cycle. Too much money is go­ing in­to TV and dir­ect mail, he writes, and not enough is go­ing in­to di­git­al.

The FL-13 Spe­cial is an in­ter­est­ing test case; the NR­CC has already spent $725,000 on TV ads (through Feb. 10) and $100,000 on web ads. FL-13 is an older dis­trict, and spe­cial elec­tions usu­ally at­tract an older elect­or­ate, any­way. But the NR­CC ul­ti­mately in­tends to use FL-13 to test the ef­fect­ive­ness of both TV and di­git­al to reach per­suad­ables and turn out their voters — even if that spend­ing level is “in con­trast to un­deni­able re­search con­cern­ing rising di­git­al us­age,” as Har­ris writes.

Di­git­al spend­ing by cor­por­a­tions has moved to nearly a quarter of their over­all ad­vert­ising budget, and polit­ics (par­tic­u­larly on the Re­pub­lic­an side) hasn’t kept up with that. The demo­graph­ics of midterm-elec­tion voters don’t ne­ces­sar­ily match up with the the over­all con­sumer base, and 2014 won’t ne­ces­sar­ily be won or lost on­line. But, as Har­ris and oth­ers ar­gue, spend­ing smarter will boost the GOP’s chances of cap­tur­ing the Sen­ate this year and the White House in 2016.

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