As “Access Hollywood” plays in Pamela Wilson’s living room, a commercial featuring a crying girl in a stroller appears and a worried voice says, “The future is getting worse under Obama.” Wilson pulls up a casino game on her laptop.
Looking up, Wilson, a 64-year-old retired postal worker who lives in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, a Columbus suburb, said she would rather play games, check e-mail or read a book than watch another presidential campaign spot.
“It just really gets frustrating because you hear the same thing over and over again,” Wilson said in an interview. “I have gotten to the point that I don’t hear them most of the time.”
Ohio, one of the states that may decide the U.S. presidential election, had 132,469 commercials aired in the race from April 10 through Sept. 24 at an estimated cost of $72.5 million, more than any other state, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG. Watching them consecutively would take a month and a half. Like voters across the nation, Ohioans are strongly divided on partisan lines. One thing unites them: They all hate the ads.
Wilson and other Ohio voters interviewed in front of their televisions or by telephone say they’re sick of the bombardment. They don’t trust President Barack Obama, Republican challenger Mitt Romney or the 18 outside groups airing ads in Ohio to impart accurate or honest information.
“It’s an obvious manipulation, and I don’t appreciate it,” said Audrey Gellman-Chomsky, 23, while watching TV with her mother in Bexley just outside of Columbus. “I don’t pick my laundry detergent or my toilet paper based on the cutest animal, either.”
If you watched all the presidential ads aired in Ohio back-to-back, it would take 46 days, according to the CMAG data.
Besides those, there were more than 13 days’ worth of commercials aired in the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel from July 2011 through Sept. 17, according to CMAG. Only the Montana Senate race attracted more.
Ohio is a battleground state that elected Brown in 2006 and supported Obama with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, then two years later elected Governor John Kasich and other Republicans to statewide office. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio, and the last Democrat to do it was John F. Kennedy in 1960.
At Wilson’s one-story brick home, where she lives with her 90-year-old mother, the first two commercials during “Entertainment Tonight” were political and a third of the 20 commercials during the 30-minute program were for the presidential or Senate races.
Wilson, who supports Obama, said she remembers when the ads didn’t start in earnest until after the political conventions. Now, they seem to start in January and don’t relent until the election is over, she said.
Her mother, Olive Norman, said she once worked for a Head Start program and saw kids who came to school so hungry that she would ask the cook to make more toast.
“And we’ve got all these millions of dollars being spent so they can lie about each other,” Norman said.
The most presidential ads in Ohio, 32,163, have been run in the Cleveland market, according to CMAG. Chris Campbell, 47, a truck driver and Romney supporter in North Ridgeville outside the city, said he initially watched them with amusement before he noticed a change in tone. He pointed to an ad created by Priorities USA Action, an independent pro-Obama super-PAC that links Romney to the death of a woman whose husband lost health insurance when the private-equity firm Romney co-founded closed his plant.
“I kind of enjoyed them at first, because they were kind of comical, and then they got mean,” Campbell said in a telephone interview. “It was almost childish, the silly things going back and forth about each other.”
Sitting on a sofa with Sam the dog and Fenway the cat, Gellman-Chomsky and her mother flip between local news broadcasts and watch a Romney ad that ends, “Obama had years to stand up to China. We can’t afford four more.”
“How many times have we seen that ad?” asks Susan Gellman, 55, a lawyer volunteering with the Obama campaign.
Suffer the Children
Her daughter, a graduate student, said she’s undecided and won’t vote until the last minute after she has absorbed as much information as possible. The ads don’t help, she said.
“That baby was just crying over Obama’s future,” Gellman-Chomsky said with a laugh after watching the ad with the girl in the stroller, which was aired by Americans for Job Security, an Alexandria, Virginia-based group that says it promotes free markets.
The Obama and Romney campaigns have accounted for 67 percent of the ads in Ohio, with Obama airing three times as many as Romney, the data show. Even so, 81 percent of the 43,434 ads aired by outside groups have supported Romney, led by the 10,522 commercials run by Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit group founded with help from Republican strategist Karl Rove, according to CMAG.
Gellman said she doesn’t think the ads necessarily help one side or the other.
“They kind of cancel each other out,” she said. “People are disgusted with them altogether.”
Norman Hull, 74, a retired farm-equipment dealer from Fort Recovery in western Ohio, said he’s made up his mind to support Romney and sometimes hits the mute button when political ads come on.
“I see them, and I don’t pay them any mind,” Hull said in a telephone interview.
There’s no downside to the deluge because voters can ignore ads or use digital video recorders to fast-forward past them, Joe Valenzano, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Dayton, said by phone.
Still, such technological defenses can spawn even more commercials as campaigns try to get their messages through sheer volume, said Jerry Miller, interim director of the Ohio University School of Communications Studies.
“It’s kind of a reaction to the contemporary viewer, which is why individuals who may not take advantage of the technology, or whose viewing habits may be a little bit more traditional, may be more frustrated with them because they are seeing more,” Miller said in a telephone interview.
Wilson said she’s looking forward to the presidential debates, which start tomorrow, as a welcome distraction.
“At least you’re hearing what they’re saying and there’s a rebuttal,” Wilson said. “The commercials are just the same rhetoric over and over and over and over again.”