Did the Seattle Times Cost Rob McKenna the Election?

The Math Says Yes!

Did the Seattle Times Cost Rob McKenna the Election?


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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. recommended


Comments (11) RSS

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I do not think that the experiment cost Rob McKenna the election. I do not understand the fixation on The Seattle Times. Its editorials are wrong-headed, preferring political lightweights and social conservatives (Mike McGavick, Susan Hutchinson, John Koster). It is baffling to me how anyone could take the endorsements seriously. The editorial staff must know that they write crap, the subscription staff must be told daily that the crap editorials are what keeps some away from paying for delivery, yet they persist.

The headline would be more correct if it were "Did The Seattle Times get burned on its experiment?"

I did note that in polls most respondents between the ages of 18 - 30 preferred McKenna to Inslee. The Stranger never picked up on this or offered theories for this peculiarity.
Posted by Sandy Stranger on November 14, 2012 at 10:22 AM · Report this
And just this morning I noticed they've upped the price of that rag to a DOLLAR. A dollar for a crossword puzzle and Cisco Morris once a week? I don't think so.
Posted by Totalpukoid on November 14, 2012 at 2:44 PM · Report this
It's funny that The Stranger has been using the slogan "Seattle's Only Newspaper" for a while now. Given the Seattle Times' using it's own funds to advertise for a candidate at all, it can hardly be called a newspaper. Turns out The Stranger is Seattle's Only Newspaper.
Posted by menotyou on November 14, 2012 at 3:39 PM · Report this
Texas10R 4
@ 2

NOT FAIR! It isn't easy to keep reloading a broken copy of Spellcheck on your 486 every three days.
Posted by Texas10R on November 14, 2012 at 6:08 PM · Report this
I feel guilty every time I've purchased a newsstand copy of The Seattle Times--including today's 11/14/12 edition! At least I didn't take out a subscription! What the heck--I only read the comics, horoscopes, and do the puzzles---and brave the Opinion Page on occasion. The blatant ads for McKenna were atrocious!

Seriously, what was The Seattle Times thinking when enacting this doomed to crash "pilot"? Were the Blethens profit lusting? Did all those Pulitzer Prizes go to someone's head?

KUDOS, Stranger, for indeed being Seattle's Only Newspaper!
Posted by auntie grizelda on November 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM · Report this
I've been a Seattle Times subscriber for over 25 years, I've even worked for the company while in college. I have always been forgiving of their editorial opinions and their lame gubernatorial recommendations. However their advertising for McKenna in their own paper crossed a journalistic line. I value newspapers and the service they provide to public information and discourse, but it pains me to say I am unsubscribing. The Blethens took it too far. It stunk and they knew it.
Posted by just stunk on November 15, 2012 at 12:43 PM · Report this
@6: I wonder how many others disgruntled by the The Seattle Times will follow suit in canceling their subscriptions? Hopefully the 100 staffers brave enough to protest the Blethens' hideous political act of greed didn't lose their jobs.
Posted by auntie grizelda on November 15, 2012 at 6:16 PM · Report this
The Stranger has gotten it wrong from the beginning. Seattle Times never said they were trying to sway the election, they said were showing the effectiveness of a political ad in their paper.

They're trying to win money from advertisers not votes.
Posted by EdWal on November 15, 2012 at 9:11 PM · Report this
@8 is right. The Times execs framed this as a strategy intended to attract advertisers (though no one explained why a newspaper that abandons any pretext of neutrality would impress advertisers)
Posted by Compass Rose on November 15, 2012 at 11:42 PM · Report this
@8: They can "frame" it any way they want. The bottom line is, the people who run the paper were doing all they could to get McKenna into office. But, of course they can't just come out and say that. Duh.
Posted by Eckstein on November 17, 2012 at 6:20 PM · Report this
@8 & 9: I agree more with @10 Eckstein. Regardless of the publisher's actual intentions, however blatant or subtle as a newspaper, the biased public endorsement of Rob McKenna was a stupid move.

Okay. The election's over and I'm shutting up now.
Posted by auntie grizelda on November 17, 2012 at 9:09 PM · Report this

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