The presidential campaigns are zeroing in on nine swing states, bombarding them with commercials in the earliest concentration of advertising in modern politics.
With so many resources focused on persuading a shrinking pool of swing voters, the 2012 election is likely to go down in history as the one in which the most money was spent reaching the fewest people.
“It is unusual that so few states are in play from an advertising standpoint,” said Will Feltus, senior vice president of National Media, which researches and plans ad placements. He said the sheer amount of money this year is a factor. And because neither candidate is accepting public financing, which would limit how they spend, they can concentrate dollars more strategically.
The nine states — Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — could change in the months ahead; advertising is a sign of which states are competitive.
But no recent general election has seen advertising strategies that cover so little ground so early. In the spring of 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore fought an air war in close to 20 states. In early 2004, there were the “Swing Seventeen.” And in 2008, the Obama campaign included 18 states in its opening ad offensive of the general election.
Nowhere is the trend more apparent than in Nevada.
Already, ads about President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney have aired nearly 6,000 times in and around Las Vegas since April 11, more than in any other media market in the country, according to the Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. Obama and Romeny themselves have both campaigned in Vegas.
All this to reach just 1.4 million registered voters, a sign of how tight this election is expected to be. And it points to how the country's partisan divide has redrawn the political geography, with fewer states than ever not firmly designated “red” or “blue.”
A new study by the Pew Research Center found that the differences between Republicans and Democrats on a range of questions — like whether someone believes in God and what role government should play in helping the poor — have never been starker in the 25 years since Pew began the survey.