Skip to main content

Obama dominated TV ads in Ohio, outspending Clinton almost two-to-one

March 12, 2008 By Dennis Chaptman

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama spent nearly twice as much on TV advertising in the Ohio primary campaign than did Hillary Clinton, according to a report by the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Despite both candidates hitting the airwaves on Feb. 12, the Obama campaign enjoyed a solid advantage in the number of spots aired in Ohio.

The campaigns of the two Democratic candidates for president aired more than 16,000 spots in Ohio, spending about $6.8 million. Obama outspent Clinton by a margin of nearly two-to-one, with the Illinois senator spending more than $4.4 million to air just more than 10,000 spots.

Clinton spent $2.3 million and aired just more than 6,000 spots. Republicans were largely absent in Ohio; neither John McCain nor Mike Huckabee aired a single ad leading up to the Ohio primary.

Interest group spending became a factor in the short Ohio campaign, with three groups spending money advertising on behalf of the Democratic presidential candidates.

The American Leadership Project, an independent group supporting Clinton, spent more than $80,000 and aired more than 175 ads.

Obama saw more advertising on his behalf, with the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union spending more than $1 million combined to air nearly 2,500 spots.

Groups supporting Obama ran more ads than groups supporting Clinton in every media market. These advertisements accounted for more than 15 percent of the total advertising in Ohio.

Overall, advertising in the Democratic primary produced more than 19,000 spots, costing approximately $8 million.

More than one-fifth of Clinton’s advertisements contained negative content, while less than 5 percent of Obama’s ads were negative. All these ads drew contrasts between the two Democratic candidates.

Generally, the tone of the campaign was positive, with the vast majority of ads from both campaigns promoting their candidate. The "3 a.m. phone call" ads did not air in Ohio markets, but did receive extensive coverage on the news.

These are among the findings of a new report from the Wisconsin Advertising Project that analyzed data obtained from the TNS Media Intelligence Campaign Media Analysis Group (TNSMI/CMAG).

The report, supported by the Joyce Foundation and the Midwest Democracy Network, analyzes political television advertising in seven Ohio media markets (Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, Charleston, W. Va.) from Feb. 1 to March 4.

"We saw some significant differences between Ohio and Wisconsin", says Ken Goldstein, a UW–Madison political science professor and the project’s director. "Although Clinton was outspent on the air in Ohio as well, it was by a two-to-one margin and not the five-to-one margin we saw in Wisconsin. Also, in Ohio, the Clinton campaign was up at the same time as Obama and was not dark for the first week of the contest like in Wisconsin."

Goldstein adds: "We saw the first significant outside group buys in Ohio. Union supporters of Barack Obama aired over a million dollars in advertising and comprised about 15 percent of the total ad spending."

The study also found that:

  • Except for the disclaimer taking responsibility for her ads, Clinton narrated less than one-fifth of her ads, while more than 60 percent of all Obama ads featured him speaking on his own behalf;
  • Both Democrats focused most of their advertising on the issues of jobs, health care, and trade;
  • Obama advertised heaviest in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, while Clinton directed most of her ads to the Youngstown, Columbus and Cleveland markets. The Obama campaign out-aired Clinton in every media market except Youngstown;
  • The Clinton campaign mentioned NAFTA 1,190 times in its advertisements, while the Obama campaign mentioned NAFTA 1,108 times.

Here is a breakdown of Ohio political ad airings by market: Cleveland, 3,776 airings, $2.7 million spent; Columbus, 3,445 airings, $1.6 million spent; Cincinnati, 3,383 airings, $1.5 million spent; Dayton, 2,377 airings, $750,000 spent; Toledo, 2,605 airings, $650,000 spent; Youngstown, 2,691 airings, $600,000 spent; and Charleston, W.Va., 731 airings, $150,000 spent.

The Wisconsin Advertising Project, considered the most important and credible source of information on campaign TV advertising, is funded in 2008 by a grant from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.

The Wisconsin Advertising Project is affiliated with the university’s Department of Political Science.