This week, the race for the Senate has been dominated by analyses showing Democrats faring better than expected in the most competitive races. Election models from Nate Silver, Washington Post and New York Times all downgraded Republicans chances of taking control. While it is still early in the cycle and there are many factors affecting individual races, there is one common denominator. Democrats are dominating the ad wars.
According to a new analysis from Wesleyan University, Democrats have a commanding lead in ad spending in 9 or the top 10 Senate races. Only in Alaska have Republicans bought more ad time than Democrats. In all of the top House races, Democrats are winning the ad battle.
The ad disparity is a marked reversal from the 2010 midterms. Pro-Democrat ads for Senate races are up over 91% compared to 2010. Pro-Republican Senate ads are down 8.4%. The Democrat ads are far more negative than 2010 as well. Negative ads make up 55% of all Senate advertising, but over 70% of Democrat Senate ads are negative. Less than a quarter of Senate Democrat ads are positive, which is a pretty good proxy for the current state of national affairs and the popularity of the Democrat agenda.
Looking at the Wesleyan analysis, then, it is unsurprising that Democrats remain competitive even in states carried by Mitt Romney. In many areas of these states, there is a one-way dialogue underway with voters and this dialogue is dominated by attacks on Republicans.
The underreported story of the 2014 midterms is the Democrats fundraising success. The party’s national campaign arms have dominated Republicans in raising money. On Tuesday, one panicked email from a Republican campaign committee said Democrats have raised $30 million more than the GOP this election. Democrats are currently reaping the seeds of this success.
Republicans are belatedly trying to rally base voters, as evidenced by the near-hourly stream of email solicitations. The GOP is currently reaping the consequences of its public disavowal of conservative voters.
The good news for Republicans is that this ad disparity won’t last. The Democrats have the early lead, but the election is in 7 weeks, not tomorrow. In the coming weeks the Republicans can bring enough resources to neutralize the heavy advantage enjoyed today by Democrats. Even with the heavy spending advantage, Democrats in many states are just barely competitive. If the ad environment becomes anything close to neutral, Republicans could still have a big night in November.
Party strategists should bookmark this analysis, however. This midterm is shaping up to be very unlike the 2010 midterms. Obama is less popular than he was 4 years ago and the consequences of his policies are far more negative than those imagined in 2010. How the GOP lost that edge should be studied for years to come.