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Opinion Polls and Political Advertising in the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign


The recent presidential elections in the United States took place on November 6, 2012. Its main result was the confident victory of the incumbent President Barack Obama. The campaign was the subject of detailed research of political and cultural scientists, historians and sociologists. It remained an actual topic and no one experienced any lack of information. The elections and the period of at least two years before them were in the limelight of the researchers of public opinion. The process included a broad field of the analysis of the public opinion polls and focus groups, as well as telephone monitoring and on-line searches of the voters’ preferences.

Firstly, there was a set of theoretic methodological problems with respect to the general and specific factors in the development of the struggle for the White House and the dynamics of the electorate. Secondly, there was a set of new techniques and technological tasks. It was the first time probing electoral systems were carried out with the help of such a large number of organizations and so many different technological on-line methods. Moreover, never before have data collection and forecasting procedures been in the area of a regular, public discussion and estimation. It was difficult to estimate and detect the most effective methodology and metrology of the election campaign in 2012. It revealed features of the scientific support, but it is clear that in this respect it has moved far forward from classical modernism of the past century. It set new objectives for the future candidates.

Nowadays, political leaders would achieve more success applying to the Internet search of the electorate preferences, and carrying out current needs of the voters in practice. It is fundamental not to give emotional promises or set ambitious goals. The precise coincidence with demands and preferences of the majority derived from the on-line surveys will work out best.

Political Background of Re-Election of Barack Obama in 2012

The history is often favorable to the president, who risks going for a second term. Barack Obama belongs to the category despite not very promising results of the mid-elections. In the presidential campaigns held after the Civil War, second-term candidates won in 73% of cases. After World War II, it happened in 70% of cases (Johnson, 2007). Voters often tend to assist the current president to continue carrying out his duties because they follow ordinary logic “the lesser of two evils”. The new candidate had to present something new, refreshing and fundamentally changing the current approaches to combat relatively successful course of Obama.

The election campaign, which involves participation of re-elected presidents, always results in a struggle. After the defeat of the Democrats in the midterm elections of November 2010, a number of political observers declared Barack Obama a one-term president (Sabato, 2013). The loss of seats in both houses of Congress significantly weakened the possibility of Obama’s program, which did not fulfill the promises given in the fight for the presidency. However, he did not lose the chances for re-election.

In addition, history has shown that the results of the midterm elections are not an effective indicator for predicting the outcomes of the presidential campaign. For example, during the first presidential term, the party of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton lost the midterm elections. However, they won due to the second election. At the same time, presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter successfully passed the midterm elections but did not win the second term (Tarrow, 2011).

Opinion Polls and Focus Groups

According to experts, who investigated the mood of voters in the distant approaches in the last election, Obama was a politician superior to all potential rivals of the Republican nomination.

In early February, one thousand respondents were asked: “Who would you vote for in the presidential elections if they were held today?” According to the results, in the confrontation with Mitt Romney, Obama would be the first with an advantage of seven points and Mike Huckabee has conceded to his eight points. Votes for Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich ended the list with a crushing defeat.

For further analysis, the results of registered voters’ survey conducted by the Gallup Organization in early February 2011 can be considered. Then, 45% of respondents were ready to vote in the presidential election for Obama and 45% decided to give their votes to one candidate from the Republican Party. Among Democrats, 84% were oriented to support the current head of state. A small minority of 7% was in the stratum of Republicans’ preference setting (Sides & Vavreck 2013). In other words, initially it showed to be a struggle between the politicians of the two main parties.

In November 2007, polls showed that the greatest chance of victory had Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Giuliani was the first among the party members in all polls, and in early November, that is one year before the day of voting, a third of Republicans (34%) saw it as their party’s presidential nominee (Sides & Vavreck 2013). Approximately the same pattern was observed in the competition of candidates from the Democratic Party. From August to mid-November 2007, 45- 50% of the potential Democratic voters believed that Clinton would participate in the final part of the election campaign and fight for the White House (Sides & Vavreck 2013). However, Giuliani and Clinton lost the primary elections. At the end of 2011, analysts emphasized the fact that the leaders of Republican Party, bearing in mind competing for the presidency, had to develop a fundamentally different way. In mid-November, Newt Gingrich, one of the participants of candidate pool, called the electoral campaign the most volatile and unstable in his life. He was considered the most experienced among colleagues and rivals since he worked as historian and was an author of several books. However, he refused to represent the party at the elections. Those words and attitude clearly described the instability of the potential Republican voters as to whom they would support in the Republican Party during presidential candidates nomination.

Since the beginning of June to early August 2011, the preference for Mitt Romney showed the first opinions. However, by mid-August, it significantly (by 12%) lagged behind those late in the race, including Rick Perry (Medvic, 2013). About a month, Perry was the best Republican nominee for the post of the head of state and commander-in-chief of American troops. However, he dispelled those notions by mid-November: only 8% of the followers continued to support him (Medvic, 2013). In early September, African American Herm Cain’s credibility began to grow rapidly. He stayed unnoticed for a long time among his fellow party members. Hence, the proportion of Republican voters, ready to see him as a presidential candidate, has increased from 4% to 18% within a month (Halperin & Heilmann, 2013). Romney only (2%) was slightly superior to that result. However, the press began discussing the statements of several women of “sexual harassment” by Cain (Wilson, 2012). It changed the attitude of the electorate. At the same time, it launched Newt Gingrich. Romney was equally supported by liberal conservatives, while Gingrich and Cain potentially had the votes of the conservative part of the Republican electorate (Halperin & Heilmann, 2013).

Instable attitudes of Republican voters to the participants of the presidential campaign had its logical reasons similar to any complex socio-political phenomenon. Some of them reflected the absence of the adequate perception of the challenges faced by America. The inability of the Republicans to create a particular vital ideology, withdraw from the outdated ideas about American society and incorporate the fresh policy of economic and cultural interests of the new demographic structures revealed other reasons. Finally, the lack of young and bright politicians among Republicans, as well as understanding the challenges of the new century resulted into failure to offer the competitive candidate. In 2007, when Obama began his presidential campaign, he was 45 years old, being younger than any of the current candidates for the right to occupy the White House.

Republican politicians did not contain proposals that were aimed to take different groups of voters. The long process of joining Republican politicians in the election campaign, despite the fact that Romney remained one of the favorites of the race for more than a year, he was not sufficiently conservative. The modern Republican establishment and activists of the movement “Tea Party” did not support him (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). In September 2010, when his party celebrated the success in the midterm congressional elections, he looked like a “black sheep” in the background of conservative Huckabee, Palin and Gingrich (Hauss & Haussman, 2012).

While many Republicans believed that only Romney could defeat Obama, the party elite wanted to see another candidate as the President. In late November, the head of the Gallup’s Frank Newport wrote that Romney did not make negative impressions, which was good for his campaign. However, at the same time, his personality generated too little positive emotions (Kahler & Lake, 2013). Gingrich, on the contrary, primarily caused a negative attitude toward himself, but began experiencing positive attitude in the end of autumn. Thus, the year before the voting day Republicans favored very different images. In the last months of 2011, pre-election situation in the country showed not only the lack of a strong leader in the Republican camp, but also a low level of activity of the President Obama’s approval.

Political Advertising

In September, approval index ranged from 39 % to 44 % and its average value was 41%. At the same time, Clinton and Reagan, successfully re-elected for a second term, had a slightly better situation in September of the pre-election year while Bush did not save his position with a higher value of approval index of 68% in 1992 (Hague, & Harrop, 2013).

The Gallup experts acknowledged that 13 months before the elections, this criterion could hardly estimate the chances of Obama’s re-election (Hague & Harrop, 2013). Objectively, low value evaluation of Obama’s experts was primarily attributed to dissatisfaction of Americans with character development of the country as a whole and, above all, the state of the US economy. In January 2009, six out of ten respondents (59%) approved Obama’s economic policies, and about 30% did not approve. Then the value of the first index began to decline and the second started to increase. In the first half of the year, there was a balanced state since about half of the population accepted the president’s policy in the sphere of economy and nearly a half did not.

According to Denton, the performance of “First Man” in the forums of Republicans, expressed in the last 32 years, varied in the total duration and tone. In this background, Romney stands out. In 1992, George W. Bush’s performance was interrupted by applause 101 times. The other Republican presidential candidates were not very much different in terms of perception of the speech. In 1996, Bob Dole received ovations 101 times in 2000, George W. Bush was acclaimed 99 times and, John McCain was gloried 100 times in 2008. In 2012, approvals interrupted Romney’s speech only 60 times. Simultaneously, it was the shortest speech since 1980 because it contained only 4089 words, while the average length of speeches of the Republican nominees within the period was 4707 words (Denton, 2013).

Apparently, considering the fact that the image of Romney was “dry” and voters knew little about him as a person, his speechwriters oversaturated the performance of their patron with biographical words, such as child, children, church, father, family and mom. Romney spoke too briefly about the problems of politics and emphasized the situation of businesses and jobs in the country. He criticality addressed the incumbent president 15 times (Kahler & Lake, 2013).

Harris characterized Obama’s speech at the party congress as brilliant because the “arithmetic” was not affected. On average, the speeches of the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party (according to observations from 1980) contained 4683 words. Obama’s speech was 4459 words in length. The applause interrupted the speech of nominees 86 times. Obama received ovations 75 times (67 times in 2008). In addition, at the Congress in 2008, Obama mentioned his rival McCain 21 times in his speech, and only once he mentioned the name of his Republican opponent in 2012 (Jonson, 2013).

Upstream Analysis measured the content and methodical relations, calling the speeches of all the speakers of both conventions noteworthy. Analyses at the forum revealed that Republicans counted on the following positions in the electoral campaign (Roebuck, 2012).

There was positive evaluation of Romney as the savior of the Winter Olympics 2002 when he led the organizing committee for the Olympic Games after discovering that the preparation for it had almost failed. He showed himself as an excellent governor of Massachusetts, a prominent businessman, a wonderful husband and family man, successfully coping with the work of the President. Romney critically mentioned Obama as a very bad president. He concluded that the Democratic Party performed awfully, ruined the economy, made the government interfere in all aspects of public life, deteriorated socialism, provided dangerous and harmful health reform, and created a huge national debt.

Democrats pointed out the best achievements of their candidate, postulating that Obama saved the US economy from recession, as well as took reasonable and informed policy decisions. Moreover, he was a wonderful husband and family man.

Modern Technologies in Estimating the Public Opinion Political Choice

For a more in-depth study of different measurement capabilities, special questionnaires during the last three weeks of the election campaign presented a survey of the country’s electorate and state voters. Thus, the total number of polling organizations evaluating the possible outcome reached 90. The past decade has proven the correctness of online surveys. In recent years, American Pollster managed to create such schemes of conduct in online surveys that largely argued against the personal telephone interview. The fact that all schemes of telephone interviews were less precise and correct than the online procedure for studying the respondents’ attitudes was very significant in order to understand the trends in the development of methods of public opinion polls.

It still has to be elucidated why many polls appeared oblique in the direction of the Republican Party during the 2012 campaign. This became especially noticeable at the end of the presidential race. One of the main causes of misalignment is hidden in the fact that surveys do not take into account the views of the respondents who use mobile telephones, automatically underestimating the electoral support of Democratic candidates.

The fact that approximately one-third of Americans using only cell phones are youth, residents of large cities, people who have financial difficulties, most African Americans and Latinos, all of these groups of voters are likely to vote for Democrats than for Republicans (Brym, 2011).

The success of the forecasters who worked with several skewed statistics surveys showed two factors. In the first summer, they began to notice and analyze data skew polls (eg, Rasmussen Report and Gallup) toward Romney. They were also able to find methods of neutralization of this fact by making special adjustments (Farrar-Mayers & Vaughn, 2015).

In October 2007, unknown analyst began publishing the arguments about new approaches to quantitative analysis of materials of electoral polls in one of the most visited political blogs. His pseudonym was Poblano. His construction immediately attracted the attention of experts of the methodology, who followed some successful predictions of the results of the primary elections. In March 2008, he opened his site, described his method and began to systematically predict the results of the primary democratic elections. In the first half of May of the same year, Poblano, proceeding statistics of the primary elections of 2004 and 2008, suggested three hypothetical models, activating voters. He made the first forecasts of the number of electoral votes in November, which would belong to Obama. In late May, the mask was removed. Nate Silver, hiding under the pseudonym of Poblano, forecast the outcome of national elections and voting in the states that were highly accurate. In early 2009, Time magazine included him in the hundred most influential people in the world under the heading “Scientists and Thinkers”.


The success of 2012 presidential campaign was not predetermined and rather unexpected for many opinion polls, neglecting on-line ways of exploring public opinion. Republicans focused on criticism of Obama. At the same time, they did not offer any original and fresh way out of the problems ripened in the new Internet-dependent society. Democrats were less critical of their opponents and sounded more tolerant of the newly arising authorities among minorities, native population and other affected groups. The re-election of Barack Obama showed the congruity of his personal vision with non-idealistic and self-critical attitude to one’s life and activities. It looked less rigid in the eyes of the younger generations and those, who just survive.

Statistics and general data on the pre-electoral speeches at the Congress and the Internet surveys clearly indicated that the expectations of the electorate and the elite Republican Party were not realistic and did not correspond to the majority opinion of American population. Moreover, there were cases of the precise calculation of possible election’s outcome. They can transform the approach to the campaign in the future. Hence, it will be based not on the promises, but on the precise coincidence of the presidential program with the expectations and the demands of the prevailing majority of the electorate.


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