Well, it’s over. Other than who won, what can be learned from the 2012 elections? A few early observations:
>> Campaign spending appears recession-proof.
Total spending on the presidential and congressional races was expected to hit a record $6 billion. The Center for Responsive Politics, analyzing federal campaign finance reports, projected that 2012 would top the old spending record by $700 million.
In a report issued a week ago, the center calculated that the presidential election would account for $2.6 billion in spending, while campaigning for 435 U.S. House seats would cost some $1.82 billion and $743 million for the 33 Senate seats available.
Spending by outside groups, such as super PACs, fueled much of this year’s increase. “The most significant difference compared with earlier cycles is the unprecedented money being raised and spent by outside — and ostensibly independent — organizations, which we are predicting will spend more than $970 million,” the center reported. Spending by these groups in the presidential race grew from $19 million a week in early September to $70 million during the week of Oct. 21.
>> How do you spend $6 billion?
Campaign travel, staff, phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts cost money, of course, but a huge chunk of all that spending went into advertising.
The Wesleyan Media Project, a collaborative effort that tracks advertising in federal elections, reports that as of Oct. 29, the total number of commercials aired in the presidential election topped 1 million. President Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, their party campaign committees and allied interest groups had sponsored 1,015,615 ads since June 1, Wesleyan reported. That’s a 39.1 percent increase over the 730,041 ads in 2008.
Did all of that advertising persuade voters or simply neutralize the other guy? Hard to say. But the experience in Ohio — a big swing state that both candidates contested until the end — suggests neither side was willing to stop trying.
Bloomberg News, which looked at data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG, said a total of 181,449 presidential election ads were aired in Ohio from April 10 through Oct. 22. Ads ran 42,691 times in Cleveland alone, 32,502 in Columbus, 29,399 in Cincinnati and 25,849 in Toledo. And that total didn’t count another 5,224 commercials aired in Charleston, W.Va., where TV signals reach into southeastern Ohio.
>> Technology thrives.
The campaign arsenals included much more than TV ads and yard signs.
Candidate websites, targeted online advertising, YouTube videos, email, instant contributions over smartphones, utilization of social media — it all exploded during this campaign.
The rapid spread of technology prompted Forbes magazine to call 2012 “the first digital election.”
>> Early voting is no novelty.
The U.S. Elections Project said at least 32.1 million Americans already had voted before Election Day. President Obama last month became the first U.S. president to cast a ballot early.
Nebraskans have joined the trend. Election Commissioner Dave Phipps projected that Douglas County ultimately would see around 85,000 voters cast ballots early, up from the 60,000 four years ago. The shift was similar in Sarpy County (a projection of 26,000 early voters this year, up from 20,000 in 2008), Lancaster County (a projected 35,000, up from 30,500 in 2008) and Pottawattamie County, Iowa (a projected 25,000, up from 15,000 in 2008).
Whether the end result of weeks-long voting will mean a boost in overall voter participation remains to be seen. But 33 states provided some sort of early-voting option for residents, the Washington Post reports.
Early voting can carry risks. If a scandal or other major news is disclosed about a candidate late in the campaign, early voters don’t have the option of taking their votes back. Still, as popular as early voting has become, it would be no surprise to see more states abandon the “Election Day only” club.