"AdExchanger Politics" is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.
Today’s column is written by Andrea Duggan, vice president of media sales at Gamut, a division of Cox Media Group.
In each election cycle, every vote matters. In this particular cycle, where party support has been split between two or more candidates, that truth is magnified.
Small leads matter, as every candidate fights to scrape up as much support as possible. This is evident in both parties. On the GOP ticket, the “Never Trump” constituency is split between two other candidates, which has made the ability to take down the frontrunner nearly impossible. For the Democrats, Bernie Sanders’ distance behind Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead means that proportion, as well as overall victory, is critical to keeping his campaign viable.
To mount the needed support, the campaigns are focused on engaging active voters, or those that will show up to the polls. But in a race where long-shot candidates are scrambling to catch the frontrunners, simply generating support from likely voters is not enough. Engaging the nonvoting population is essential.
Voter turnout dipped from 62.3% in 2008 to an estimated 57.5% in 2012, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. That’s a whopping 42.5% of the population up for grabs. As we descend upon the conventions and ultimately move into the general election, candidates must not forget to move up the funnel and engage with nonvoters as much as they do with active constituents. This will be the key for the candidates looking to clinch their party nominations, as well as for those hoping to hang on.
The Pursuit Of Nonvoters
Nonvoters are defined as “those who are either not registered to vote or are considered unlikely to vote,” according to a 2014 Pew Research Center analysis. Nonvoters are younger than likely voters, more racially and ethnically diverse and less affluent and less educated. About half of nonvoters (47%) identify with either political party; 29% identify as Democrats, 18% as Republicans and 45% are independents. There are only modest different between nonvoters on campaign issues compared to likely voters. This lack of party allegiance means that candidates from both parties have the opportunity to win their support.
While the nonvoter represents a hefty portion of the voting population, capturing the support of these constituents can prove challenging. Unlike their “likely voter” counterparts, the nonvoter must not just be swayed to support one candidate, but to reverse previous behavior and make it out to the polls. This is why ad creative plays an essential role in engaging this population. Ads must inspire nonvoters to get out and cast a ballot. They must be compelling and effectively communicate why it’s so important vote. This means using a different tone and message than traditional engagement methods targeted to likely voters.
The “Never Trump” campaign is a perfect example of this. It seeks to sway voters away from the GOP frontrunner and stall his gains thus far. Such efforts could prove incredibly impactful in engaging nonvoters, who might be inspired to head to the polls simply to block Trump’s candidacy.
Moving The Needle
Targeting the nonvoter accurately is vital. With less data on the political habits of this population, campaigns must instead focus on attributes and consumption of information to reach the nonvoter. This is where the campaigns can run into trouble. Programmatic advertising technology has made executing against data much easier, but it can be overused to hypertarget specific voters. The result is media buys that reach only a handful of voters and that are ultimately unable to move the needle.
Instead, data should be used to identify popular geographies of nonvoters, the issues that matter to them the most and the platforms with which they consume their information. These targeting efforts should not overlook local outlets in favor of national platforms. Local media remains one of the most engaging platforms for citizens to inform themselves, particularly on the election. Campaigns that leverage data targeting via programmatic technology should not rely on national publications alone. A healthy mix of national and local outlets will be the most effective way to engage the nonvoter.
In the end, it is the support of the constituency that will help two candidates clinch their respective party nominations and one candidate secure the presidency. It's counterintuitive, then, to let the nonvoting population sit this one out, despite their typical aversion to the political process.
Every candidate remaining this election must aggressively pursue this population and coax them out to the voting booths. This demo may mean the difference between contested convention chaos and inaugural ball bonanza.