National political leaders say TV ads do not have the effect on political campaigns that they did years ago.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The impact of television advertising on political campaigns is decreasing, but not to the point that Tim Hagan, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, can forgo it entirely and expect to win, political scientists say.
Hagan says he does not have enough money to run TV ads against incumbent Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican. Hagan said he will use the money he's raised to pay for direct mailings, yard signs, bumper stickers, his Web sites, and paying the salaries of staff members.
"You can't buy this election with 60-second TV spots," Hagan said.
What he'll do
Instead, Hagan will travel the state, use direct mailings and phone banks to get his message out.
A recent article in The New York Times says national Democratic and Republican leaders believe television advertising does not have the impact on political campaigns that it did years ago, and that old-style campaign techniques such as telephone calls and going door-to-door are being embraced by candidates.
But, the article states, TV remains an important aspect of campaigning and candidates are continuing to devote most of their resources toward it.
Some Northeast Ohio political scientists agree that the impact of TV ads is declining, but it is unwise for Hagan to not use it.
Paul Sracic, an associate professor of political science at Youngstown State University, said Hagan will be left with no other choice during the final weeks of the campaign but to advertise on TV if he has any chance of winning.
"It's the way most people get their information about candidates," Sracic said. "Half the battle is getting people to recognize your name, and without TV, a candidate is at a disadvantage."
Taft, who is reporting $8.42 million in his campaign fund, has already done TV advertising. During the last three weeks of the campaign, Sracic expects Taft to run many more commercials.
"It will be all Taft, all the time on TV," he said.
Hagan's campaign fund has $586,107.
Recent polls showing Taft with only a single-digit lead over Hagan should translate into more money coming Hagan's way, which the Democrat could use for TV ads, Sracic said.
Thomas R. Hensley, chairman of Kent State University's political science department, said the monetary difference between Taft and Hagan is so huge that the Democrat has no chance of winning even if he started running commercials.
TV advertising "is not the only determining factor, but if you've got one important factor, that's the one," said Hensley, a self-described liberal Democrat who plans to vote for Hagan. "It's still the most effective way to get your message out."
Dr. William Binning, chairman of the YSU political science department who works for Taft in his Mahoning Valley development office, said it's hard to reach Ohio's population without the use of television.
"To me, if I was advising a candidate, I'd like a pile of gold so I could buy a lot of TV time," he said. "TV's impact is diminishing, and it's getting expensive to reach so many voters because of all the TV markets. But in a statewide race, it's a daunting challenge to run without TV. It's the dominant way to get your message out."
The political scientists disagree about the best way for candidates to use TV ads.
With the glut of political advertisements that hit the airwaves in the final few weeks of the campaign, Sracic said candidates have to do something out of the ordinary to get the attention of viewers. He pointed to Timothy J. Ryan's campaign during the Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District race.
Ryan used a song about himself in some of his ads compared to traditional political commercials done by U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer and Anthony Latell Jr., both who lost to Ryan.
"Ryan had a song while the other two were boring," Sracic said. "Traditional ads where you have a candidate sitting at a table and talking may not be the way to go anymore. The challenge is to make your commercial stand out."
Hensley strongly disagrees.
"You can turn people off. The risks are awfully high to do something unconventional. I'd play it safe."
Also, Hensley said, people are less tolerant of negative campaign ads, and candidates should avoid them.