(Bloomberg) – The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is inspiring an explosion in early television advertising before November’s congressional elections, with close to half the commercials attacking the measure.
More than 66,000 ads in U.S. House and Senate races aired through March 9, more than triple what candidates and allied groups aired during a comparable period four years ago, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Most of the ads spotlight health care, underscoring how PPACA — Obama’s signature domestic achievement — may become a defining issue determining whether Republicans maintain control of the House and Democrats keep their Senate majority for the last two years of his presidency.
More than 30,000 of the ads had an anti-PPACA message, a 12-fold increase from four years ago, according to data compiled by CMAG. The anti-PPACA spots accounted for 45 percent of all ads, up from 12 percent during the comparable period leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
The findings also show the growing power of outside groups in attempting to influence elections. Organizations unaffiliated with any candidate account for 72 percent of ads for the 2014 campaign, compared with 13 percent in 2010, before changes to federal campaign-finance laws and regulations spurred the creation of some groups while increasing the clout of others.
“There’s now so much money out there for advertising, so many advertisers who are in the game, that you can keep airing ads a couple of days at a time” and “stretch it out all the way from now through November,” Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media, said in an interview.
The focus on health care comes as the Obama administration struggles to limit political damage from the botched rollout of the website for insurance exchanges designed to offer coverage to millions of Americans lacking it, where uninsured people have until March 31 to sign up for medical care.
Fifty-one percent of Americans favor retaining the Affordable Care Act with “small modifications,” while 13 percent would leave the law intact and 34 percent would repeal it, according to a Bloomberg National Poll taken March 7-10.
The law is more of a political motivation for those who oppose it than others, according to the survey. Seventy-three percent of respondents who would repeal the law said it will be a “major” factor influencing their vote in November, compared with 45 percent of those who support modifications and 33 percent who support the law as is.
The CMAG data cover ads for House and Senate races during a 14-month period ending March 9 in the 2010 and 2014 campaigns and exclude activity in special elections. The health-care legislation, after about a year of debate, cleared Congress on March 21, 2010.
Dominating this year’s early blitz is Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) group funded by billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch that promotes limited government and bills itself as the “nation’s largest advocate for health-care freedom.”
Americans for Prosperity’s ads have run more than 17,000 times for the 2014 election, most linking politically vulnerable Democrats to PPACA. The group yesterday released its second health-care ad attacking Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who’s in a difficult re-election race in a state Obama lost by more than 20 percentage points in 2012.
“We knew there would be heightened public awareness around the implementation of the law, and we thought it was important to go up early with a heavy effort,” Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said in an interview.
“So it’s been television, radio, social media, and a very strong grassroots effort” that have been “harming these incumbent Democrats” who voted for the law, Phillips said.
Many of its ads seek to personalize the issue for voters by highlighting individuals who say PPACA made their medical care more expensive. The administration’s allies and fact- checking groups have challenged those claims.
The ramped-up activity by Americans for Prosperity, which had run no ads by a similar point in 2010, has compelled political opponents to follow suit in an arms race on the airwaves.