Campaigns and Elections: TV Crosses Party Lines to Deliver Voters

Campaigns and Elections: TV Crosses Party Lines to Deliver Voters

By this time next year, the debates will be over, political ads will be history and local, state and national candidates will be preparing to take the oath of office. But before any candidate can claim victory, they need to reach voters with the right message during the right TV program.

Live TV remains the primary medium to consume video and the average adult spends more than four hours each day watching live TV. But with hundreds of channels available in many markets, knowing what voters are watching is no easy task. To understand which local broadcast and cable programs voters are tuning in to, Nielsen uses its voter ratings insights to identify voters’ political identities and viewing habits. In turn, this information can help local broadcast and cable stations better sell their ad inventory to political campaigns.

A recent study explored how identifying the right dayparts and programs in local markets can effectively reach voters across the full political spectrum including Super Democrats, Ultra Conservatives and On-The-Fence Liberals, as well as Conservative Democrats, Left-Out Democrats, Mild Republicans, Uninvolved Conservatives and Green Traditionalists. For the study, Nielsen matched TV viewing data from second-quarter 2015 with voter segmentation data in the Cleveland, Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg designated market areas (DMAs).

Understanding Programming Preferences Are Key to Reaching Voter Groups

In Tampa-St. Petersburg, miniseries, evening news, prime-time dramas, reality TV and sports such as golf and college basketball were among the top local broadcast programs to reach key voter categories. Across all English- and Spanish-language Tampa-St. Petersburg stations, local broadcast delivered composite ratings of 8.4 or higher among Super Democrats, Ultra Conservatives and Green Traditionalists, showing the ability to reach voters with precision and scale. Based on these insights, local programs can be identified by station to efficiently deliver specific voter segments.

With different programming throughout the day, however, local broadcast stations can appeal to multiple voter groups. For example, a station that reaches Ultra Conservatives can also attract Super Democrats and Green Traditionalists depending on the program. Similarly, overall voter delivery can vary by station and daypart. So in that respect, candidates would want to advertise across various programs on different stations to best reach their desired voter group. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, for example, Ultra Conservatives preferred a miniseries on one station, evening news on another and a reality singing competition on a third.

Additionally, voter groups’ programming preferences can vary by local broadcast and cable. When it comes to local broadcast viewing in Denver, Ultra Conservatives watched primetime crime and mystery dramas and miniseries, and Super Democrats watched primetime sitcoms and dramas and the hockey playoffs. Meanwhile, the study found Super Democrats were more likely to watch hockey and baseball on local cable, while Ultra Conservatives preferred baseball and home improvement programs.

The research also indicated that local sports programs on cable delivered much higher voter ratings when compared to standard ratings. For instance, among Ultra Conservatives, baseball on cable delivered a voter rating (3.9 voter rating) more than two times higher than the standard persons 18 and older rating (1.7 P18+ rating).

Broadcast and Cable Effectively Reach Multicultural and Women Voters

While campaigns historically have sought to reach Hispanic voters on Spanish-language TV, the study found that English-language news shows were also an effective medium to reach Hispanic Democrat voters in Denver. In fact, the top two programs from Denver’s English-language broadcast stations were up to 155% more likely to reach Hispanic Democrat voters. In Denver, evening primetime can also effectively reach Hispanics and averaged a 4.0 or higher voter rating among compared to the standard rating for Hispanics 18 and older.

African-American Democrat voters in Cleveland were two times more likely to view game shows on broadcast TV, but their viewing habits on cable were more diverse. They were also up to 134% more likely to tune-in to crime dramas or movies on cable.

When we looked at Super Democrat female voters 30 and older in Cleveland, the study found that they were up to 148% more likely to watch primetime dramas. On-the-other-hand, Ultra Conservative female voters in the same age group were up to 57% more likely to tune in to news shows. On cable, both Ultra Conservative and Super Democrat female voters 30 and older were up to 47% more likely to watch reality home improvement programs. Additionally, Super Democrat female voters were also more likely to watch primetime dramas. When we looked at Super Democrat and Ultra Conservative female voters 30-plus, they had some similar cable viewing habits across all three DMAs: Cleveland, Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg. They were also almost four times more likely to tune in for reality home improvement or home buying programs.

Insights from Nielsen’s voter ratings can help political candidates, agencies, local broadcast stations and cable providers identify the commercial inventory that best delivers key voter categories. The findings from Nielsen’s research in Cleveland, Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg underscore that program viewing in local markets differs by political affiliation. In addition, there’s an opportunity to better segment and reach voters within local broadcast and cable program audiences.

Local broadcast and cable can offer the ability to customize ad buys that reach voters by age and gender, as well as how they vote. Ultimately, knowing how audiences cross party lines to reach key voters can lead to a more strategic political advertising approach that more efficiently delivers the right message to the right voters.


Nielsen’s television political study used Simmons Research’s PoliticalPersonas consumer segmentation and is available in 56 LPM (local people meter) and set meter markets. The LPM measurement of voter segments in Cleveland, Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg markets was conducted using local TV viewing from second-quarter 2015 among adults males and females 18-plus and 30-plus, as well as Hispanic adults males and females 18-plus and 30-plus. The analysis utilized Live+7, average quarter hour program and daypart ratings and was limited to general market stations with a 1.0 person 18-plus rating or higher and to Hispanic stations with a .5 Hispanic Persons 18-plus rating or higher.

Nielsen’s Local TV panels provide a representative view of the DMA markets and offers persons-level viewing for key demographics based on metered viewing behavior for all viewing sources including broadcast-only homes and over-the-top homes. Simmons PoliticalPersonas are matched to Nielsen panelists, which provides the ability to evaluate voter viewing habits by age, gender, race and ethnicity based on Nielsen’s representative view of the market, including U.S. Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American segments. Simmons PoliticalPersona consists of 10 segments based on the voting-age population at the national and local level spanning the political spectrum from Super Democrats to Ultra Conservatives. Segments are differentiated based on political outlook, voting behavior and other attitudes and preferences. Experian developed the PoliticalPersonas segments using a proprietary model that utilizes a variety of data inputs including: 38.6 million voter records in 14 states, demographics and consumer behavior on 299 million consumers and 116 million households from Experian’s ConsumerView File, and consumer behavior from the Simmons survey.