Nearly 1m ads on jobs, outsourcing, trade in 2012 pres race

President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will fight it out in November - and perhaps beyond, if the electoral college math ends in a tie. (AP Photos)

Whether shot in shades of gray through padlocked gates or from a bustling manufacturing floor, the American factory was the star of the show in about 10,000 unique political ads shown in the 2012 election.

That was one of the conclusions of an analysis by Kantar/CMAG for the American Alliance for Manufacturing, which found a huge increase in airtime devoted to ads about jobs, outsourcing and trade (especially with China).

“The factory visual has a lot of emotional appeal,” said Elizabeth Wilner, vice president of Kantar/CMAG, a firm that tracks political advertising.

The emphasis on unemployment and the focus on Republican Mitt Romney’s career as founder of the private-equity firm Bain Capital drove the use of jobs and trade as ad themes in the presidential race up sharply from 2008. Mention of jobs nearly tripled, from 286,000 airings to 791,000, and mentions of foreign trade more than doubled, from 35,000 to 83,000 airings, the report found.

All told, more than 975,000 mentions were of jobs, outsourcing and trade in presidential ads, the analysis says.

Thirty-second and 60-second spots about lingering joblessness, the government bailout of automakers, and the effects of “shipping jobs to” and importing products from China proliferated. It did not hurt the trend that the presidential battleground was limited to at most 12 states, and about half of them – Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – are part of the nation’s industrial heartland.

Ohio, of course, was ground zero for the presidential race, the most fought-over state in terms of advertising airtime and dollars, as well as candidate campaign visits.

The report broke down TV advertising airtime devoted to the presidential race nationally, as well as key Senate races in four industrial states: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The analysis was based on advertising tracked in all 210 U.S. media markets as well as on 11 national broadcast networks and more than 80 national cable networks.

Republicans far outspent the Democrats, and got more airings, of spots on jobs, the analysis found, while the Democrats’ ads on the issue appeared to be the more effective, it said, noting that the party’s candidates won not only the presidential race but also the four senate races studied.

The GOP advantage in “jobs” ads volume was marked in all the senate races, with the party and its nominees outspending Democrats by 3:1 in Ohio and by 4:1 in Pennsylvania, where self-funding businessman Tom Smith swamped Sen. Bob Casey (D) in advertisements, but still lost to the incumbent.

Democrats spent $57 million just on anti-Bain Capital ads, attacking the firm for outsourcing U.S. jobs or eliminating them outright, as part of a strategy to disqualify Romney in the eyes of voters.

For all the attention those attacks received, more money ($68 million) was spent airing ads about foreign trade in the presidential race.

“Both the Democratic and Republican candidates spent a stunning amount of money on television advertising to convince voters that they could best represent the interests of America’s manufacturers and their workers,” said AAM executive director Scott Paul. “Obviously they latched on to the right issues because jobs and outsourcing are absolute, top-of-mind issues.  Across the partisan spectrum, these issues move voters.”

In the summer of 2012, pollsters Mark Mellman (D) and Whit Ayers (R) conducted a national poll for the manufacturers’ trade group that found super-majorities of voters worried about outsourcing, with 62 percent saying Washington needs to crack down on China’s violations of trade agreements. And 83 percent of voters express an unfavorable view of companies that outsource jobs to China.