I reported last month on how the Americans Deserve Better SuperPAC (their web site address hits one of their big selling points: "Vote for the Adults"), supporting the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld (two former Republican governors), targeted one congressional district in the state of Maine with TV and radio ads for the candidates.
The PAC had promised to, as I reported, "poll to see if it seemed effective."
They have done that polling. A memo produced for them by the Patterson & Company polling operation, provided by PAC principal Nancy Neale, claims impressive results. The ad campaign seemed to move polled support for Johnson from 5.5 to 10.6 percent.
The company polled the 2nd congressional district of Maine three times, on August 3, 18, and 28. Between the first and last poll, support for Johnson nearly doubled, and he was the only candidate to gain support.
The ads bought by the Americans Deserve Better SuperPAC ran in two weeks in that district between the first and last poll, from August 12-26.
The PAC is confident their ad push is responsible for the polled rise in support, because the candidates did only one appearance in the area. That was on the last day of their ad campaign, "and as such [Johnson and Weld] received very little earned media coverage compared to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton over the same period."
They bought ad time on six distinct area cable systems, four broadcast TV stations (two CBS affiliates, one NBC and one ABC), and four three radio stations (two FM, one AM). There was also an online portion, which consumed around 10 percent of the total of $92,789 the PAC spent on the Maine ad buys. Broadcast TV consumed 51 percent of that budget.
From the Patterson & Company memo:
In the first round of polling, the Maine 2nd evinced a close race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with Clinton showing a little more than three point lead, just beyond the margin of error. Johnson registered at slightly more than five points.
Three and a half weeks later, in Wave 3, support for Johnson had risen about five points (5.5% to 10.6%), while support for all other candidates decreased, with the largest decrease found among Clinton (-2.7%), whose lead over Trump receded slightly to within the margin of error.
Also in Wave 3, we reconnected with 488 respondents from Wave 1. Of these, about 15 percent changed their preference. Of those changing their preference, Johnson was the clear favorite by nearly 3-in-10, followed by Trump, those becoming undecided, Clinton, and finally the Green Party's Jill Stein. Wave 2 provides additional data points that suggest the same basic movement about midway through the time period of interest.
An ancillary memo from the PAC itself that Ms. Neale provided argues that their strategy is the only pro-Johnson one that has proven to work, and laments efforts from both the official campaign and other SuperPACS aimed at the online and social media world as opposed to traditional advertising.
"Although the way in which people consume information is changing rapidly," the memo states, "we still live in a world where voters watch the 6pm local news and listen to the radio on their way to work. If you are not represented in those spaces, you are not going to move the needle for your candidates or your cause."
"The only way to disrupt the status quo," the Americans Deserve Better PAC concludes, "is with cost-effective, data-driven messages that are focused in areas also contested by the Republicans and Democrats. This will grow the Johnson/Weld ticket's electoral support, increase its national exposure and relevance, and force the ticket into the national conversation as spokesmen for the liberty message."
Chad Crow, who worked with the PAC on this campaign, said in an email today that "we tracked results halfway through the buy and then at the end of the buy and found the upward movement to be slow and steady, rather than 5 points week one and then no movement week two, or the other way around."
This indicated, he believes, that "the messaging was pretty spot-on, and just as important, the tone was right – from the music to the voices to the imagery. Most ads we're hearing from others have a much harsher tone with intense music and graphics, or the opposite where the narrator sounds as detached and robotic as Donald Trump trying to use a teleprompter. That's not a great way to emotionally connect with voters, and that's really the name of the game on TV."
Crow thinks this proves that if everyone involved in pushing the Johnson campaign forward had similar success, which involves "a methodical plan that grinds it out in the trenches" that "they'd be doing debate-prep right now and we'd be having an entirely different conversation."
The PAC chose that particular district, they wrote in the memo they provided, because it:
offered affordability, partisan parity within the electorate, and a level of undecided voters on par with the national average….We chose not to focus on a district with a large electoral advantage for either the Republicans or the Democrats, because voters in those areas realize they are inconsequential in the Presidential election. Their electors are pre-determined by the dominance of one party or the other, so it is easier to cast a protest vote knowing that it won't impact the election.
By choosing an area that is in-play for both the Presidential and a Congressional or Senatorial race, we increased our degree of difficulty in winning support for the Libertarian ticket, but also created a scenario in which we could more accurately measure the effectiveness of our messaging, as opposed to simply racking up protest votes in a heavily red or blue district.
The first TV ad, aired from August 12-19 in that Maine market:
The second TV ad, aired from August 20-26, stressing peace, prosperity, and debt: