A new academic study analyzing the 2016 presidential election has determined that Hillary Clinton and her multitude of handlers ran a deplorably awful campaign that was probably the worst campaign for national office in the modern political era.
The study — entitled “Political Advertising in 2016: The Presidential Election as Outlier?” — suggests that the biggest reason Clinton lost was because she decided she did not need to advertise in several critically important states and that, when she did advertise, her ads failed to address substantive political issues.
The trio of political science researchers behind the study — Erika Franklin Fowler, Michael M. Franz, and Travis N. Ridout — observe that Clinton did not run a significant number of advertisements in three key states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — until the very last, waning days of her 2016 campaign.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, the Clinton campaign ran almost zero ads until just days before Election Day. Then, a few days just because the election, the number of ads Clinton ran in both Michigan and Wisconsin skyrocketed from virtually zero to over 6,000 and over 4,000 respectively.
President Donald Trump also advertised very little in Michigan and Wisconsin, but he advertised more than Clinton did in weeks leading up to the election.
Both Clinton and Trump chose to advertise far less in 2016 than either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney did in 2012.
A second reason Clinton lost, the researchers say, is because she almost utterly failed to address actual, substantive policy issues in her campaign advertisements and instead mostly either criticized Trump or spoke about herself in glowing terms.
Clinton spent fully 65 percent of her advertising time either criticizing Trump in personal terms or yammering on about herself, according to the professors.
Only about 25 percent of Clinton’s ad messages were devoted to policy issues. (The remaining 10 percent of the time, Clinton managed to talk about some combination of policy issues and either herself or Trump.)
By way of comparison, the researchers say, Trump discussed policy issues over 70 percent of the time in his ads.
In past elections, presidential candidates tended to focus on policy issues in their advertising campaigns. Obama stuck to the issues confronting Americans about 75 percent of the time in his 2012 ads, for example. Romney stuck to the issues over 80 percent of the time. In his presidential election victories in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush discussed policy issues about 70 percent of the time and about 60 percent of the time in political ads, respectively, the researchers say.
“It’s much more difficult for advertising to have an impact in a media environment that is saturated with sensational media coverage of the campaign — and of two already well-known candidates — but that does not mean that all advertising fails to work,” the Wesleyan Media Project said in a press release.
“Message matters, and a message repeated endlessly does no good unless it resonates with a sufficient number of the right voters. Team Clinton’s message that Trump was unfit for the presidency may not have been enough.”
Fowler, Franz, and Ridout are the directors of the Wesleyan Media Project.
The study was published in The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics.