Did the Seattle Times Cost Rob McKenna the Election?
The Math Says Yes!
When the Seattle Times announced last month that it would spend its own money purchasing political ads in its own paper—about $75,000 each on behalf of Rob McKenna and Referendum 74—it was pitched as an experiment to demonstrate to political campaigns the "effectiveness and value of political advertising in newspapers."
So now that the election is over, it is time to analyze the results and evaluate the effectiveness and value of political advertising in the Seattle Times.
R-74 was approved and gay marriage won! Yay! But then again, it was always leading in the polls. In fact, the most recent Elway Poll—conducted October 18–21, immediately following the October 17 start of the Seattle Times political advertising experiment—had R-74 up by four points. R-74 went on to win by about six points, but unfortunately, that doesn't show any evidence of the Seattle Times ads changing the outcome of an election.
But the governor's race tells a different story. That same Elway Poll had Republican Rob McKenna leading Democrat Jay Inslee by two points when the ads started. But it is Inslee who went on to beat McKenna by better than two points. That's a four-point swing in Inslee's direction! And McKenna has done particularly poorly in the Seattle Times' backyard, trailing Inslee in King County by a whopping 62–38 margin.
Presumably, had McKenna improved his standing over the run of these ads and gone on to win the election, the paper's advertising sales reps would have touted that as evidence of the ads' value and effectiveness. But since McKenna actually lost ground over the course of the ad campaign, one might likewise presume that these ads were to blame. Indeed, one could even argue that the Seattle Times cost McKenna the election!
"This was a pilot program, and there are no plans for repeating it in the future," Seattle Times vice president of public affairs Jill Mackie told NPR's On the Media. Obviously a failed pilot, especially given the "significant number of subscribers" who Mackie says stopped delivery in protest.
So there you have it: Even if the electoral math is tenuous—let's be honest—the subscriber math makes the Seattle Times the clear loser.