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The majority of the mid-term elections last fall were not hotly-contested in Philadelphia — save for *maybe* the governor’s race — but a new report shows candidates and the PACs that support them still spent big to air TV ads on the city’s networks. The spending in the final eight weeks before Election Day added up to $14 million on some 12,000 ads.
The time those commercials took up on your screen was a far cry from the objective political reporting that was actually on the news that you turned on your TV for. Believe it or not, if you were watching TV, you got paid political messages much more often than you saw journalism about political issues — the ratio was a staggering 45 to 1. Surprise!
This is according to the Philly Political Media Watch, a conglomerate of government and media watchdogs funded by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation and led by the Internet Archive. The Sunlight Foundation, the Committee of Seventy and the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service also participated in a TV political ads study released this week that’s apparently the first of its kind in Philly.
Here are some crazy things we learned from the report:
1. There was a remarkable amount of political ads, especially considering the races weren’t that close
The most surprising part about the race and the amount of dollars spent was that nothing was all that seriously competitive. Take the race in the the 3rd congressional district in New Jersey where Republican Tom MacArthur and Democrat Aimee Belgard were battling for a seat. The MacArthur for Congress campaign bought over 1,000 campaign commercials, and according to this study, 9 out of 10 of them either directly attacked or defended an attack from his opponent. It was an ad blitz that was the third largest in the Philadelphia region, and Belgard lost by a whopping ten percentage points anyway.
2. Ding ding ding, we have a spending winner! And his name is Tom Wolf
The race for the governor’s office between incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and challenger Tom Wolf might have seemed close heading into the race. But Wolf, a wealthy businessman from York, handily beat Corbett by 10 points on Election Day. Still, Wolf used much of his considerable funds to run ads in Philly, and he had backing from prominent political action groups, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. It was the most expensive gubernatorial race in state history.
Of any political candidate last fall, Wolf spent the most money advertising in Philly. He spent more than $2 million on nearly 1,200 ads in the area, while Corbett came in fourth among politicians advertising in Philly by sponsoring 870 ads. Here’s a look at the top five spenders:
Here’s a look at the top five political ad buyers in the Philadelphia area:
3. PACs are way more attack-y than candidates
If you’re running for office, better hope your opponent doesn’t have a significant PAC behind them. These groups were much more likely to run attack ads than that actual candidates. The report found that though two thirds of ads were sponsored by candidates themselves, only one fifth of candidate ads were attack ads. In comparison, two thirds of PAC ads were attack ads. Three political action committees (and one candidate) actually ran solely attack ads in Philly last fall: the American Action Network, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Aurand for Congress and Crossroads GPS.
Here’s a look at an attack ad that got a lot of time on the air in PA: It’s Tom Wolf criticizing Tom Corbett’s attack ads, and then promptly attacking back:
You can at least thank a few candidates and groups for running only positive ads about their candidates and no attack ads. They were Norcross for Congress, Coons for Senate, LoBiondo for Congress, Fitzpatrick for Congress, Simmons, Barnes, Taliaferro for Freeholder, Friends of Warren Kampf and Independence USA PAC.
(This is why places like Philadelphia Magazine are ringing the bell now for dark money in the 2015 mayoral race.)
4. Want journalism about political issues? Watch NBC
While the study points out that it’s still a dismal trend to see that political ads in the fall outpace political issue journalism by a ratio of 45 to 1, NBC Philadelphia led that political journalism coverage by using about 6 percent of its broadcast time on political stories. NBC also led the field in broadcasting political ads over nine weeks before Election Day, showing more than a quarter of all the political ads shown in Philadelphia.
In last place for political coverage? Fox 29 News, which was No. 1 in crime coverage, but last in the amount of time it spent covering political issues in the city.
5. The cands from the 26th Senatorial district spent a lot of dough
In the 26th Senatorial District, which covers parts of Chester and Delaware Counties, Republican Thomas McGarrigle defeated Democrat John Kane by four points in the midterm, but the race was for an open seat on the state Senate and the candidates spent big. This study shows that McGarrigle and Kane pumped $2 million into commercial ad spots in the Philadelphia region alone.
6. Donald Norcross also spent a lot of ca$h money
In the 1st Congressional District in Jersey, Democrat Donald Norcross — yeah, of that politically-connected, we-run-the-Democratic-Party-in-South-Jersey family — defeated Republican Garry Cobb by close to 20 points for a seat on U.S. Congress. The district is very Democratic, but Norcross still spent close to a $1 million advertising on Philadelphia TV stations between Sept. 1 and Election Day.
7. Yes, people still get their news from TV
Why’s this all matter? Because TV news still rules.
Even while young people increasingly get their news from digital sources, almost eight in 10 Americans still get their news from a local television station. The Pew Research Journalism project found that more than 70 percent of adults watch local TV news over the course of a month, and as of the 2014-15 television season, the Philadelphia television market consisted of 2,953,760 television households. That number makes it the No. 4 market in the country.