"Distaste for Health Care Law Reflects Spending on Ads," is the headline over a New York Times news article purporting to show that the reason polls show ObamaCare is unpopular is that opponents are spending more on commercials. Reports the Times:
even if the Obama administration wins in the nation's highest court, most evidence suggests it has lost miserably in the court of public opinion. National polls have consistently found the health care law has far more enemies than friends...
That success may stem in large part from more than $200 million in advertising spending by an array of conservative groups, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($27 million) to Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS ($18 million), which includes the billionaire Sheldon Adelson among its donors, and the American Action Network ($9 million), founded by Fred V. Malek, an investor and prominent Republican fund-raiser.
In all, about $235 million has been spent on ads attacking the law since its passage in March 2010, according to a recent survey by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. Only $69 million has been spent on advertising supporting it....most advertising spending in support of the law has come from the Department of Health and Human Services. Appearing mostly on national and cable networks, the agency's ads are bland, explaining aspects of the law.
This article is flawed for at least five reasons.
1. Inconsistency/double standard. Barack Obama's campaign reportedly outspent John McCain's on television commercials in 2008 by more than $100 million and by a margin of somewhere between three and four to one. Yet I don't recall any articles in the left-wing "mainstream" press attributing President Obama's election to the fact that he bought it. The left-wing press only trot out the "impressionable masses swayed by big spending" argument in the case of a right-wing outcome, like Governor Scott Walker's recall victory in Wisconsin or these Obamacare polls, not in the case of left-wing outcomes, such as an Obama presidential victory.
2. Arbitrary time period. The article focuses on what has been spent since the law's passage. But the law was unpopular even before its passage, a period in which interest groups like insurance and drug companies that think they will benefit from it funneled money into ads supporting it.
3. Failure to account for value of unpaid media.The article seems to assume that people get their information mainly from television commercials. What about all the press coverage of President Obama's speeches in favor of the law? What about the New York Times editorials in favor of its passage?
4. Assumption that people are easily manipulable. As the Times itself pointed out in another article, T. Boone Pickens spent $62 million on an advertising and public relations effort "in which he tried to persuade Americans to embrace his Pickens plan. It called for a vast expansion of wind energy to displace natural gas, freeing the natural gas for use in vehicles, thus displacing foreign oil. No American with a television set could escape Mr. Pickens's argument last year. But somehow, a mass conversion to natural gas cars failed to ensue."
5.Total failure to consider alternative explanations. Maybe the reason people oppose ObamaCare is not the disparity in spending on television commercials. Maybe people, having weighed the arguments on both sides, wind up agreeing that the law is unconstitutional, too expensive, and too complicated. Maybe, in other words, the explanation isn't the advertising spending, but the underlying substance. The Times does not even explore this possibility.