WILLAMSBURG, VA: Doug Jones’s victory over Roy Moore in Alabama’s recent special election for a Senate seat may offer limited lessons for political advertising experts, given the unique contours that shaped this specific race.

Kip Cassino, EVP at Borrell Associates – a Williamsburg, Virginia-based research firm – estimated that roughly $11m was spent on the election, although further data is still to come in.

While Jones, the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama for 25 years, outspent his rival by a 58:42 ratio in terms of advertising, per Borrell Associates' current figures, the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Moore were likely the deciding factor, Cassino argued.

“Advertising was an important element, though not as important as some other factors in this particular case,” he said. (For more read WARC’s in-depth report: Political advertising lessons from the Doug Jones versus Roy Moore race.)

“The charges against Moore levelled by several women gave him ‘negative’ earned media that overwhelmed what should have been an easy win in a deep red state.”

Such controversy ensured that the race in Alabama took on atypical characteristics – even to the point where the Republican National Committee (RNC), the party’s governing body, temporarily withheld funding from its candidate.

“This race was unique, in that it pitted a candidate with a well-established base (religiously active, right-leaning rural and suburban voters) against the continuing shock of multiple charges of sexual misconduct,” Cassino said.

“Moore had to battle not only his opponent, but the accusations against him as well. Even though the RNC eventually relented and supplied his campaign with funds, Moore was not able to regain parity with Jones at the ballot box.”

As such, the learnings from this election – where TV claimed around 44% of spending based on Borrell’s current data, with digital on approximately 20% – for the contests in the 2018 midterms may be restricted in scope.

Borrell believes that total political adspend, covering everything from school board elections to federal races, will come in at $9bn next year.

“That’s not as high as it might have been if broadcast TV had maintained its share from past elections. It won’t, and its replacement by cheaper digital and direct mail will keep increases over 2014 relatively low,” said Cassino.

Campaign planners, he predicted, will “continue to turn from mass audience communications” like TV in order to leverage the targeting capabilities offered by digital – including the “first large-scale experiments with mobile device political ads”.

Sourced from WARC