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Political ads are rampant in the 2020 campaign trail

By Evelyn Archibald and Albert Chang-Yoo 

Staff Editors

In America, we have advertisements as far as the eye can see. Promotion is everywhere: on our TVs, on fifteen-foot-tall billboards, at the bus stop, in the newspaper, on our phones. It’s the only way to get your name out there and your product sold. 

But what happens when you are your product? It’s an election year, which means political candidates all over the country are trying to gain traction in the polls. Can how – and where – a candidate advertises themselves make or break a campaign?

This upcoming primary election has seen a very large and diverse field of Democratic candidates since the start of the race, but now remains with fewer contenders. The most recent Democratic debate featured seven of these candidates: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Micheal Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Pete Buttigieg. 

At the center of this contentious race is the large amount of money being spent on ads, mainly contributed by billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. Steyer has spent $149 million in advertising according to FiveThirtyEight. He has spent the most money ($12.8 million) on ads in South Carolina, a state which he is relying on to boost his standing in the race.  Meanwhile, Bloomberg has recently topped the $500 million mark in ad spending in a new report by Advertising Analytics. During the most recent debate, in fact, Bloomberg had video ads played during the breaks. 

California has been at the center of national attention, due to its important position in the primary. California votes on Super Tuesday, a day where multiple other states have their primaries; the results can make or break a campaign. Due to its importance, many candidates have made considerable ad-buys in California. Michael Bloomberg has already spent $63 million in the state, more than any other candidate. A collection of students and teachers at Shasta were asked if they had encountered these ads, and what their impressions were. 

All student respondents to a survey sent out to the school said that they had seen at least one political ad for the candidates. Both teachers and students all said that they had seen a Michael Bloomberg ad, showing how effective Bloomberg’s spending has become.

One of the many Michael Bloomberg ads that have aired in California: 

The ads have worked in helping spread awareness of the various candidates. Half of the students surveyed said that they had been first introduced to a candidate through a political ad. Shasta junior Giovanni Riad wrote that ads have “definitely made me more conscious of which candidates are running.” Pearl Aloft, a sophomore at Shasta, said that the ads are a “main source” of how she learns about what the candidates stand for. 

Henry Cooper, AP Government teacher at Shasta, believes that candidates are benefiting from this dumping of ads:  “What this election cycle has shown is that just the quantity and pure number of ads is almost more impactful than the messages themselves.”

Mr. Cooper pointed out Kamala Harris as an example of failure to maintain national media attention. Harris performed strongly in early debates, which boosted her poll numbers, but she failed to keep a lasting image in between debates and ended up dropping out in December. “You need to have that constant name recognition and that constant coverage, whether it’s positive, negative … that still puts you as someone that people are going to know,” Mr. Cooper said.

This strategy seems to be working for some candidates. In a national poll by PBS and NPR, Bloomberg shot to second place. He received 19% of the support, placing him right behind Bernie Sanders (31%). 

However, many students said that the ads were not persuasive enough to change their minds. Bruce Blore, a junior at Shasta, said that he “tends not to trust ads” and would need to do his own research on the candidates. Shasta sophomore Jenny Hu replied, “I like to think that I make my own opinions through personal research.” 

Sarah Day Dayon, Shasta AP U.S. History teacher, acknowledged how advertising can cloud the waters of accurate information. “I don’t think that there are a lot of unbiased resources out there to understand where a lot of the candidates are coming from, because I think there is so much political advertising.”

History teacher Ms. Dayon believes it’s important to fact-check political advertising. PHOTO CREDIT: Evelyn Archibald

Ms. Dayon understands, however, why it is sometimes difficult to do that extra searching. “It can be challenging if you are one of the voters who doesn’t have the time or energy to [do] the research on your own.” 

Ms. Dayon still considers it to be imperative to research the candidates before jumping to conclusions: “If people don’t want to question it or do further additional research, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense. I agree with that person. I’m going to just vote with what they think,’ rather than actually looking into other perspectives out there, folks who don’t have as much money to politically campaign in the same way that other candidates do.”

Featured Image (at the top of this post): Mike Bloomberg has spent over $500 million on advertising.

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