How localized radio spots helped win rural voters in Missouri and why campaigns shouldn't ignore them
Campaigns are investing more than ever before in new digital technologies—and for good reason. The Internet and smartphones have changed the way campaigns organize, raise money, persuade voters, and get-out-the-vote. Online is where many of us live our lives.
But as consultants and campaign managers scramble each cycle to find the next-best-thing, they’d be well-advised to remember that radio (the old-best-thing) still matters, especially when it comes to reaching local audiences.
According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of Americans (age 12+) listened to the radio at least once a week last year. And while online streaming or Internet services like Pandora have become increasingly popular, the number of people listening to broadcast radio has not changed much over the past decade. Millions of Americans still tune in at home, in the car and at work.
At a time when voters are more distracted than ever, radio listeners are remarkably focused and attentive. For many Americans, once the kids are dropped off, the morning and evening commutes are the calmest part of the day, a brief reprieve from life’s craziness. Even in the Internet age, there’s a very real and important place for radio in any comprehensive communications plan.
A brief case study to illustrate the point: the 2012 race for Missouri governor. I managed Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) reelection campaign this past cycle—a race which presented a unique challenge. Although traditionally a battleground state, the electorate became decidedly more Republican in 2010, leading to widespread losses for Democrats up and down the ticket. But unlike other Midwest states that saw a Republican wave in 2010, the partisan composition in Missouri didn’t bounce back to normal heading into the 2012 election cycle; the electorate continued to skew Republican.
We determined that Nixon needed to win 15-20 percent of Republicans in order to secure victory. That’s a fairly daunting prospect in today’s polarized environment, where any crossover vote is difficult to come by, let alone 250,000 of them. Our challenge was compounded by the reality that President Obama was heading towards a large defeat in the state and his campaign (smartly) spent its resources elsewhere.
We were, however, confident that we had a message that would resonate with these Republican voters. Gov. Nixon had a fiscally conservative track record of balancing the budget without raising taxes, he showed leadership in the face of multiple natural disasters and he was credited for working across the aisle to save the state’s auto industry.
While our television ads carried our more general message to these Republican voters, we embarked on a large-scale localized radio campaign to deepen Nixon’s connection with these mostly rural voters.
To establish our target stations and regions, we first consulted our polling data and persuasion models, and then determined which regions of the state had at least two local radio affiliates that reached at least 10,000 households. Our media buyer, Lisa Cabanel with the Campaign Group, helped us navigate the complicated rural radio terrain and secure premium rates.