If you're a TV and politics geek like I am, this is High Season. The spectacle and cynicism and pageantry and blow hard-ery of a presidential campaign is now reaching its crescendo.
Something struck me the other day that I had never thought about before. It happened while I was watching a man-on-the-street interview with a guy in Virginia. He was asked about how he felt about the local Senate race between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, a campaign in which many millions of dollars has been spent in advertising on both sides.
The man's response was pretty typical: he's "just sick of all the commercials" and "can't wait until things get back to normal."
It suddenly struck me that this guy, who is sick of all the politics-related commercials and can't wait for things to get back to "normal," is looking forward to when he can enjoy the simple pleasures of normal television advertising once again. So no more Tim Kaine and George Allen and Barack Obama and I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message, and back to spending some of the minutes that he has left on this planet on good old Miller Light and Toyota and the nails-on-chalkboard guy in the dollar sign-covered green suit.
On top of this pretty ironic takeaway, this struck me as wildly funny because I realized that with as much television as I watch, I hardly sit through any commercials at all these days.
I record almost every show I watch via DVR and time shift. I even do this for sporting events so that I can skip commercials and fast forward through the inevitable and interminable filler. For this year's election day – one of the most important moments for me in terms of time I'll spend watching television this year – I'll very likely time shift by 5-10 minutes throughout the night, frequently pausing coverage of the results and analysis so that I can get some chores or e-mail squared away and, of course once again, skip those very same commercials that that dude in Virginia seems to so look forward to.
There must be many others out there like me, I realized – a group that surely will increase in size over time.
So take a step back and consider that there is a group of Americans who are immune to the television ads that cost hundreds of millions of dollars each political cycle (except perhaps when they are being mocked or picked apart on The Daily Show or the like). And keep in mind too that this group is much younger and much more dialed into technology than your average voter. Which means of course that the group – let's call them DVR voters– is only going to grow over the coming years and political cycles.
This, I'd argue, is a good thing because most people recognize a) that political messages boiled down to 30 second attack ads and insipid bromides are not useful and yet b) when these 30 second blasts are dumped upon non-DVR voters, carpet bomb-style, they have the potential to move the needle on voting intentions to some degree.
Play this out and I'd say sooner rather than later political campaigns are going to see less impact from television commercials and move those resources into different mediums – the Internet predominantly. Let's hope that reaching people outside of the "one-way" broadcast mechanism that is traditional television will provide for a more constructive and substantive exchange of ideas and messaging.
Moving back to the present, I do wonder if DVR voters are having some small impact on national politics already. I may be reaching a little here, but I'd wager that your typical DVR voter also owns a mobile phone and therefore is more likely than your average voter to not possess a wired or land line phone (I'm also in this group, by the way).
This means that DVR voters are also much harder to reach for pollsters, who also spend millions of dollars collectively tracking voter opinions in the months leading up to election day (if the "political horserace" and analysis of polling numbers turns you on at all, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog in The New York Times is a must read). This factor leads some, like Silver and his vaunted "political model," to weight polls that don't include cell phone-only homes (which are unreachable via automated or "robo-polls") more lightly than those that do.
Therefore, we might then say that DVR voters are both harder to reach with political campaign messaging and, likely, harder to obtain voting intentions from.
Could DVR voters be having an impact on the 2012 race already?