Why Obama Has an Ad Advantage

One thing overlooked in discussions of campaign fundraising is who controls the money. Over the summer, Team Romney raised enormous sums, but large portions of it were either for affiliated super PACs or the Republican National Committee.

The upside for the Romney campaign is that they had many different ways of raising money. But there was a big downside as well: Television ads—one of the largest line items for any campaign—were more expensive as a result. Under federal election law, campaign committees qualify for lower advertising rates than either party committees or independent groups. In practical terms, this makes ad spending more expensive for Romney than Obama.

Given the limited effectiveness of advertising—even good ads lose their power within days of airing—this difference can become an important tactical advantage in the waning days of a campaign, when both sides are trying to influence as many voters as possible. Indeed, this is exactly what we’re looking at: As a recent study from the Wesleyan Media Project details, Obama aired 15,000 more ads than Romney over the last month, while spending $10 million less than his competitor. Team Obama spent $77 million on 112,730 advertisements from October 1 to 21, while Team Romney spent $87 million on just under 97,407 ads.

When you combine the fundraising of Romney and all Republican groups, the GOP has a fundraising advantage over Obama. But that hasn’t translated into an advertising advantage, which is what ultimately counts. As we approach November 6th, Romney might find himself in a position familiar to most challengers—attacked on all sides with a deluge of ads, without the ability to give an effective response. This may not diminish his odds of winning—President Obama isn’t a strong incumbent—but it certainly doesn’t help.