MBPT Spotlight: Numbers Game: People Talking Politics—A Closer Look at the Media We Reference in Political Conversation

Last week, the Supreme Court lifted the aggregate limits on campaign contributions from private individuals, protecting Americans’ right to free speech and the ability to financially bolster a political point of view. Whether or not you philosophically agree with the Court’s decision, free speech is one of our most precious American rights, and we’ve come a long way since the printing press was the most expedient method of disseminating political opinion. The media landscape, growing more complex every day, is a battlefield for attention. So, as we head into the 2014 midterm elections, will the potential increase in media exposure from the Supreme Court’s decision translate into greater voter conversation? If history is a guide, it’s likely. When it comes to people talking politics, local broadcast television is a significant driver.

As Mark Twain once said, “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand.” Twain understood the power of word-of-mouth, even in analog times. As more and more of life’s interactions happen digitally, shared physical experiences have powerful effects on our ability to both process and remember information. Several studies have been published in the last decade about the impact of co-viewing and out-of-home viewing on advertising recall, illustrating the benefit of conversation to reinforce brand messaging. So, while digital discourse (online chat) attracts much industry attention because of its ability to be easily monitored, face-to-face communication (word-of-mouth) has just recently begun to be explored as a measurable marketing channel.

Last April, TVB commissioned “The American Conversation Study” from The Keller Fay Group, a full service marketing research and consulting company dedicated exclusively to word-of-mouth marketing. In an online survey format, we asked 2,011 nationally representative adults 18-plus about online and offline conversations they had during the prior day. Respondents were asked to answer in-depth questions about up to five different categories of conversation, including what media content or advertising may have “sparked” or informed their conversation. In total, the study captured 9,391 conversations across 18 different categories from “Automotive” to “Weather.” Despite the timing (April), there was enough conversation in the political arena to warrant a preliminary look at how people are talking politics in their day-to-day lives.

Like weather, traffic and sports, politics is not only a mainstay of everyday conversation, but also a key pillar of local TV news content. In large and small communities across America, local TV news is driving many of our daily political conversations, providing a trusted, reliable source of information that is both referenced and shared.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Citizens have the majority (79%) of their local political conversations face-to-face compared to online conversations (less than 10%)
  • TV is the dominant influencer of local political conversation
  • A total of 61% of respondents referenced television as the media source that sparked their political conversation, outpacing newspapers (24%) and online (21%)
  • When discussing local politics, two-thirds of all respondents claimed to have referenced something they specifically saw on local broadcast television news during their conversation, making local broadcast the leading source of information among television outlets.
  • Digital media is a reference point for one-fifth of our local political conversations, but broadcast television websites accounted for four of the top five sources of digital advertising that prompted, sparked or was referenced in local political conversations, outpacing social media sources by a ratio of 3-to-1.

People Talking Politics: How Local Television Drives Political Engagement, released by TVB, looks closely at the daily political conversations that propel interaction and highlights the dominance of local TV news to deliver message impact. Local news operations have become increasingly sophisticated in developing content for an array of on-air, online and mobile assets. Accessibility throughout the day provides voters with updated information wherever and whenever they need it, capitalizing on the value of local market content that is tailored at the right moment to the voter’s first-person experience within their communities.

Despite the variety of media available to influence voters today, local broadcast remains at the center of the American political conversation, driving more conversations than any other medium. All candidates are seeking to “break through the clutter.” Local broadcast, in its ability to source conversations throughout the day, creates multiple opportunities daily on the air, online and in mobile to reinforce political messaging in the minds of voters—even in those important decision moments on the way to the voting booth where it matters most.

For more details about the study, see TVB’s analysis here.