It is perhaps an underappreciated truism among the Washington-based class of political insiders, observers, commentators, strategists, staffers, consultants, researchers, spokespeople, and politicians themselves that not everybody likes politics. In fact, lots of people dislike it.
Every two years, when American TV sets are taken over by tens or hundreds of millions of dollars worth of political advertising, many people, I suspect, greet this development with tired, disgruntled sighs. Negativity abounds, and it is served, in many cases, by oversimplicity: congressional votes on large, complicated bills are cited to prove that candidates support tax increases or federally funded abortions or gigantic deficits. Most people assume, correctly, that things are a trickier than that.
All of this is very unattractive.
So it is perhaps easy to overestimate the effect of TV ads on elections by assuming that dollars injected into a state- or nationwide purchase of TV time will cause direct improvement in the spender's polling numbers. While ads for big campaigns are commonly based on some form of empirical data--either focus groups or polling that shows likely voters leaning one way or an issue or a dimension of an opposing candidate's capabilities in a certain policy genre--none of that helps if the broader, viewing public doesn't actually like the ad, if its aesthetics misfire or if it plays to some inaccurate gauge of audience tolerance for negativity or rhetorical license.