Gore, Bush and ad failure

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The advertising for the 2000 Bush and Gore presidential campaigns must take its share of responsibility for the exciting but unsatisfying end result-virtual deadlock. That so much money and effort left each candidate at the end grasping for a handful of disputed votes in a few counties in one state suggests that those ad dollars failed in their mission.

With Messrs. Bush and Gore each having about $50 million of their own advertising behind them, one of them figured to seize on the ad message, the theme, the vision that would have touched and motivated more than 50.0001% of voters who turned out on Election Day. It didn't happen.

There's a reluctance here to criticize too strenuously these ad campaigns. They treated voters seriously. By and large, they had substance. They talked issues...and issues and issues. As national political ad campaigns go, they were civil. Little mud was flung. They generally avoided jingoism, blatant character assassination and appeals to fear and emotion. For those who are sick and tired of the nasty and negative in political ads, there was little in the official campaigns to gripe about.

But they failed to move a respectable majority to make the right purchase on Election Day. And that in politics is the measure that counts.

Equally as important is the question of how deeply campaign ads are penetrating the voter marketplace. We know about "mobilizing your base." The Bush base and the Gore base neutralized one another. Who was getting the first-time voter? Or the voter who gave up on politics but was moved by a candidate or candidate ad to come out on Election Day?

The evidence here is not good at all. According to preliminary calculations, 50.7% of the eligible electorate voted-barely higher than 1996, a year of historic low turnout. As Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore agonized over a few hundred votes, think of the millions that were never cast. If that isn't a failure of advertising to sell, we don't know what is.

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