People Talking Politics: How Local Television Drives Political Engagement

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In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand.

—Mark Twain

Mark Twain knew the power of word-of-mouth. Polite society may dictate the evasion of political conversation, but civic responsibility demands an informed electorate. In political messaging, a great deal of time is spent evaluating various media options to effectively deliver key message points to constituents. But what happens after message reception?

As more and more of life’s interactions happen digitally, shared physical experiences have powerful effects on our ability to both process and remember information. Several studies have been published in the last decade about the impact of co-viewing and out-of-home viewing on advertising recall, illustrating the benefit of conversation to reinforce messaging. So while digital discourse (online chat) attracts much industry attention because of its ability to be easily monitored, face-to-face communication (word-of-mouth) has just recently begun to be explored as a measurable marketing channel. The truth is, if you’re relying on social media to monitor “the local political conversation”, you’re only capturing about 4% of the electorate’s sentiment.

So, as we head into 2014 midterm elections, how much media weight will translate into people talking politics? The answer may have much to do with the media you choose.

Like Weather, Traffic and Sports, Politics are not only a mainstay of everyday conversation, but also a key pillar of Local TV News content. In large and small communities across America, Local TV News is driving many of our daily political conversations, providing a trusted, reliable source of information that is both referenced and shared.

Add to the mix that local news operations have become increasingly sophisticated in developing content for an array of on air, online and mobile assets, and you have a recipe for marketing success. Accessibility throughout the day provides viewers with updated information wherever and whenever they need it, capitalizing on the value of local market content that is tailored at the right moment to the consumer’s first-person experience within their communities.

People Talking Politics looks closely at the daily political conversations that propel interaction and highlights the dominance of Local TV News to deliver message impact.


To better understand the currency value of local news, TVB worked with The Keller Fay Group, a full service marketing research and consulting company dedicated exclusively to word-of-mouth marketing. Throughout the month of April 2013, Keller Fay conducted an online survey of 2,011 nationally representative Adults 18+ about online and offline conversations they had during the prior day. Respondents were asked to answer in-depth questions about up to five different categories of conversation, including what media content or advertising may have “sparked” or informed their conversation. Categories of conversation measured included:

Community Events
Family Life, Parenting, etc.
Going Out
Health Services
Local/Regional News
Major Purchases Under Consideration
National/International News
Personal Relationships
Professional Service Providers
Shopping for Goods and Services
TV Shows

In total, 9,391 conversations were analyzed in the TVB’s analysis.

Because differentiating local from national sources of media is sometimes difficult for respondents, the local television stations available in each DMA were coded by zip code. Respondents were asked to provide their zip code early in the questionnaire so that later questions about media consumption would be tailored to the specific station call letters and affiliations available in their market.

People Talking Politics is a special-edition analysis that is specific to the study’s findings around local political conversations.


The Reality of the Virtual-ity of Communications

The Reality of the Virtual-ity of Communications Much of the media industry’s examination of conversation is based on public, observable chat in digital social media. While political strategists today are right to lean in and sharpen their listening skills, it’s important to understand that Online – including email, instant messaging and social media – makes up less than 10% of all conversations. Face-to-Face conversation accounts for the lion’s share (77%) of consumers’ interactions daily – and that increases to 79% when the conversations are politically charged.

The power of face-to-face conversation in comparison to virtual modes has not been extensively studied, however recent research conducted by MIT/Initiative, Turner Broadcasting, ESPN and others has uncovered the value of co-viewing over solitary viewing, increasing advertising recall by as much as 80%. Group viewing – both in and out-of-home – has traditionally been assumed to be a distraction for viewers. This new vein of research postulates that the conversation that emerges from the content and advertising being seen provides both additional frequency and personal context. This may explain the improved recall observed in group-viewing scenarios.

Television: Your Daily Reference Point

Television has always been a mass medium, allowing candidates to reach large audiences. Through TVB’s analysis of conversation sources, Television clearly emerges as also delivering superior impact. Despite the instant access to data and information across devices, respondents were three times as likely to cite Television as the reference point when engaging in local political conversations.

Television:  Your Daily Reference Point
Source: Keller Fay TVB American Conversation Study, April 9-26, 2013. 
Base: Respondents =2,008  Base Conversations = 9,391 News of the Day Conversations =2,488  Local Political Conversations = 80

Local Television: The Accelerant that Fuels Conversation

Television is a vast canvas of content for voters to navigate, and although cable television (in aggregate) drives a significant share of audience attention, local broadcast content is most top-of-mind when local political conversations take place.  Broadcast content is the dominant television resource for local political information.  More than half of all respondents (61%) source their local political conversations from something they saw or heard on local news programming alone.

Local Television: The Accelerant that Fuels Conversation

What’s the Internet’s Leading Source? TV

Online media is a key player in the influence mix of local political conversations.  Respondents in the TVB/Keller Fay study indicated that 21% of their local political conversations referenced something they saw or read on the Internet, placing third among media sources.  Looking specifically at online advertising, TVB/Keller Fay asked respondents which online advertising source prompted, sparked or was referenced in their local political conversations.  Broadcast television websites accounted for 4 of the top 5 online influencers, outpacing social media sources by a ratio of 3:1.

What’s thWhat’s the Internet’s Leading Source? TV

Source: Keller Fay TVB American Conversation Study, April 9-26, 2013. 
Base: Respondents =2,008   Total Conversations = 9,391 Local Political Conversations = 80


Despite the variety of media available to influence voters today, Local Broadcast remains at the center of The American Political Conversation, driving more conversations than any other medium. All candidates are seeking to “break through the clutter”. Local Broadcast, in its ability to source conversations throughout the day, creates multiple opportunities daily on air, online and in mobile to reinforce political messaging in the minds of voters – even in those important decision moments on the way to the voting booth where it matters most.



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