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Money Pours In To Produce Anti-Donald Trump TV Ads


The number of anti-Trump ads on TV has ballooned in the last month. In early February, about 1 in 10 Republican TV spots was an attack ad against Trump. Today, it's about half of all the Republican ads. Elizabeth Wilner of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence has done this research and joins us now. Welcome to the show.

ELIZABETH WILNER: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Who are these Trump attack ads mostly from - super PACs, other campaigns, other outside groups? Who's doing them?

WILNER: It's mostly super PACs, a couple affiliated with candidates John Kasich and also Marco Rubio - also some attack ads directly from Ted Cruz's campaign. And then there are organizations, super PACs not affiliated with any candidates who are really bearing most of the burden of doing the attacking.

SHAPIRO: Last night, Trump decisively won 3 of the 4 contests, including the two big ones in Michigan and Mississippi. Let's listen to a bit of what he said last night speaking in Florida.


DONALD TRUMP: I think what this shows really more than anything else is that advertising is not as important. It really isn't as important as competence because there has never been more money spent on hitting somebody than was spent on me.

SHAPIRO: Elizabeth Wilner, what do you make of that assessment?

WILNER: Well, that's not exactly true in terms of never been more money spent on hitting someone than hitting him. There certainly is a growing anti-Trump campaign on the air, and just based on the results last night, it doesn't appear to have been effective. But that doesn't mean it won't be effective next week.

SHAPIRO: Does is surprise you that so much money pouring into attacking one candidate is not having the intended effect?

WILNER: It's not that surprising when you're given how incredibly loyal and steadfast Trump's base of support has been. It may be that his supporters are just ignoring the charges. They see them as coming from the Washington establishment or from other candidates, and so therefore, they discount the charges. And it may also be that paid media is less effective both when Trump himself is concerned and in general in this particular primary.

SHAPIRO: When we talk about the effectiveness of paid media, do we need to factor in all the free airtime that Donald Trump gets - the unpaid media?

WILNER: Well, he definitely has been the exception to the rule. He gets a massive amount of free media. No other candidate ever could possibly compare to the amount of free airtime that he has gotten. And he himself has spent relatively little on the air. And the last new commercial that he actually put on the air is nearly a month old by now except for one attack spot that he's been airing against Marco Rubio in Florida. Otherwise, the last new ad he himself put on the air is nearly a month old by now. And he just keeps airing his old ads.

SHAPIRO: Are Democrats spending anywhere close to what Republicans are spending?

WILNER: They are both spending considerable amounts. The big difference between the Democratic side and the Republican side is the sort of absence of super PAC money. Really, 99 percent of all spending on the Democratic side has been done by the two campaigns themselves.

SHAPIRO: And how does this year compare to previous presidential years?

WILNER: In terms of the amount of spending?

SHAPIRO: The amount of spending we've seen at this point in the primary and caucus process.

WILNER: We certainly have never seen a primary before where so many candidates had the wherewithal to be on television. Whether it was their own campaigns or of, you know - or supporting super PACs, so many Republican candidates walked into 2016 with enough money to do a reasonable amount of advertising if not more than a reasonable amount.

SHAPIRO: Generally, when you see the kind of boom that we are seeing this year in advertising, especially negative advertising, do you reach a point of diminishing returns where people start to just tune everything out?

WILNER: You can reach that point. One thing that hasn't really been looked at because it does need to be studied and no academic has really done that so far is the effect of ad fatigue not just within a particular cycle but over the years. It's the same audiences, the same media markets every four years - New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, you know - all the other usual primary states, and you have to wonder whether we're seeing long-term ad fatigue setting in because the same people are getting hit over and over again every four years. And so it's possible we may be seeing just this buildup of ad fatigue and resistance to political advertising overtime.

SHAPIRO: That's Elizabeth Wilner of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence. Thanks for joining us.

WILNER: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.