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An Online Democracy?

Money, money, money. But where is it all going?

November 7, 2006

According to an Associated Press/AOL poll taken just two weeks prior to the election, 35% of Americans, and 43% of likely voters, are using the Internet to get information about the upcoming election.

Likely Voters in the US Who Get Election News or Information from the Internet, by Gender and Age, October 2006 (% of respondents in each group)

The poll found that 24% of those getting election information online say they have accessed a blog this election season, and 10% have accessed a message board, chat room or blog to participate in election discussions.

In addition, the poll showed that liberals are more likely, at 51%, to get election information from the Internet compared with moderates and conservatives, at 42% and 39%, respectively.

"A couple of years ago, it really did seem as though conservatives had figured out the Internet for political uses better than liberals had," Dan Kennedy, an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University in Boston told the E-Commerce Times. "But it does seem like liberals have come roaring up to speed in the last couple of years."

Surprisingly, a Nielsen//NetRatings survey found that 36.6% of US adults online are Republicans, 30.8% are Democrats and 17.3% are Independents.

US Adult Internet Users, by Political Party, Fall 2006 (% of respondents)

"The fact that the online population is more heavily composed of Republicans than Democrats is principally a function of the Republican Party's higher composition within the overall electorate," said Nielsen//NetRatings analyst Ken Cassar. "This is exacerbated by the fact that online penetration continues to be deeper among affluent households, which have historically skewed Republican."

Not surprisingly, though, members of the different parties visit very different sites.

Top Five Websites in the US, Ranked by Composition of Visitors Who Are Republican, Fall 2006

Top Five Websites in the US, Ranked by Composition of Visitors Who Are Democratic, Fall 2006

But does all this activity — and the ability to sharply target — mean political marketers are moving spending online? Not really.

While the amount of spending on this election is setting records, the overwhelming majority of the money is being spent on traditional media, mainly on television and direct mail.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, more than $1.8 billion has already been spent on US political ads this year, shattering the record of $1.7 billion in political advertising expenditures in the 2004 campaign — which was a presidential campaign year.

In fact, TNS expects total political ad spending to top $2 billion this year, 17.6% more than 2004 — and those numbers do not include spot cable spending, which is expected to be large.

Setting the numbers even higher, a report released in early November by PQ Media states that the 2006 campaign marks the first time in a non-presidential election year that political media spending outpaced the previous presidential election.

Including both political advertising and marketing communications, PQ Media projects that spending will reach $3.14 billion for full-year 2006, a 14.5% increase over the 2004 campaign.

US Political Advertising and Marketing Communications Spending, 2002-2006 (billions)

PQ Media found that while broadcast television will once again easily command the largest share of the political media spend of all advertising and marketing media segments, including broadcast and cable TV, broadcast radio, newspapers, Internet, magazines, direct mail, public relations/promotions and mobile spending, Internet advertising has seen the fastest growth since 2002, up an estimated 726.3%.

For more on ad spending — online and off — read eMarketer's Ad Spending Trends: The Internet and Other Media report.

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