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Viewers Claim To Tune Out During Election Season

Published on June 13, 2012

A new survey commissioned by MGH, an integrated marketing communications agency, found that 32% of survey respondents change the channel as soon as a political advertisement airs and during political news coverage, and nearly half (47%) of viewers will change the channel or mute the TV during a negative political ad.

The Baltimore agency commissioned the survey to find if consumers change their viewing habits during election season.

As usual, the vast majority (88%) of respondents said they are turned off by negative political advertising. But as usual, the negative ads work.

Younger millennials aged 18-24, skewed higher in some measures:

  • Forty-five percent change the channel during political news coverage.
  • Thirty-nine percent change the channel as soon as they see a political advertisement.
  • Twenty percent are more likely to watch programs online, and 19% are more likely to record programs they want to watch to avoid commercials.

"This year's election is gearing up to be a tight race, and with tens of millions of advertising dollars being put toward mudslinging political television ads, marketers need to pay attention to some of these statistics to make sure that their consumers aren't changing the channel on their clients," said MGH President, Andy Malis. "During election years, television advertising space is limited and more expensive, so advertisers need to get creative and integrated with their media campaigns to ensure their message is getting through the clutter."

The key takeaways, according to MGH, are that marketers have the potential to lose more than one-third of their potential audience if a political ad airs – and nearly half if a negative political ad airs – in the same commercial block as theirs. Additionally, marketers that target the younger millennials may have an even tougher time reaching this audience through TV ads.

Still the spending is high, and a report released in March from Borrell Associates forecasts that out of the $9.8 billion that will be spent on political advertising for this year’s election, $5.6 billion will go toward broadcast TV and $939 million toward cable TV advertising. The New York Times estimates that at least $50 million worth of ads will appear in swing states in the next several weeks, about five months out from the election.

Time will tell if these viewers actually do tune out as they claim. Viewership was very strong during the GOP debates. ABC claimed big ratings for its “Your Voice, Your Vote – Republican Presidential Debate in New Hampshire” broadcast. Nielsen tallied 6.25 million viewers, including 1.73 million Adults 25-54 and 1.40 million Adults 18-49. The ABC debate topped the Fox News Channel’s December 15 debate with 1.31 million viewers.

According to January figures from The Pew Research Center for The People & The press, it is true that fewer Americans are closely following the campaign than four years ago. Cable TV leads among sources at 36%, but the Internet is next to last at 25% and has not grown in significance since 2007. So, those younger-skewing voters who claim to get ad-free news online might be exaggerating, or simply disinterested. Just 20% of those younger than 30 claimed to follow the campaign closely, down from 31% in 2008. But because younger voters skew Democrat, they may prick up their ears as the conventions and election near.

Equation Research conducted the survey in April 2012 on behalf of MGH. Equation surveyed 1,000 adults aged 18+ who had seen at least one political advertisement recently, located in states where presidential primaries had taken place.