Could Ad Blocking Really Dampen Democracy?

Some Are Concerned Ad Blocking Will Affect the Election

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Carly Fiorina, Republican presidential candidate.
Carly Fiorina, Republican presidential candidate. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

In a recent interview with The Intercept, Edward Snowden suggested that everyone should use ad blockers as a means of privacy protection. He may not realize that some think ad blockers could actually be the death knell for democracy.

Everyone should be concerned with the effect of ad blocking on political campaigns, argued Matt De­Luca, VP-of di­git­al strategy at digital political agency En­gage, in a National Journal article earlier this month. Candidates might make plans to reach prospective voters online, the thinking goes, only to be automatically stiff-armed by ad blockers.

A TechCrunch article published Wednesday makes a major leap, though, suggesting that ad blockers could produce a collapse of democracy as we know it:

By installing ad-blocking software, some consumers are further removing themselves from the democratic process, possibly without even realizing it. This should be cause for concern, not just for advertisers and publishers, but for anyone who believes American democracy is best served by a well-informed public.

To be sure, ad blocking affects political campaigns and advocacy groups as much as any other advertiser.

But let's remember a few things before we start mimicking Chicken Little on the stump. First, voters do not rely solely on advertising to gain awareness of candidates or inform their choices. While ads absolutely have an impact on people's perceptions of candidates, the money-obsessed media and campaign watchers often forget that running the most ads does not necessarily deliver a win. (The early going in the GOP primary has certainly been suggestive on that point, but let's see if the learning sticks.)

It's also worth noting that sophisticated campaigns do a lot of testing and are very results-driven. They are looking for email signups and donations, and at the very least, click-throughs, and they can make cost-per-acquisition or action-oriented buys just like everybody else. If a channel is proving particularly dry, they'll be quicker than brand marketers to seek another route.

And perhaps most important, campaigns invest in a variety of media such as email and social media where advertising may not be so obscured by blockers. Any voter, be he a newbie 18-year-old or a jaded middle-ager, has any number of ways of accessing an endless stream of news and information about candidates and issues.

The bigger concern may be how long web publishers that cover elections can thrive if their readers continue to adopt ad blockers and tamp down the flow of revenue.

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