We saw lots and lots of maps after the 2004 election: red and blue states, red and blue counties, The United States of Canada and Jesusland. But here's one I never saw:
This is the Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA) map. It's really hard to find on the cheap. After a lot of digging I found a site where, after you dig two layers deep, you find maps of each market. (AL-MS and MO-WY).
The realities of broadcasting illustrate how artificial political boundaries are. Look at this year's top races. New Jersey is split between the Philadelphia and New Yordk DMAs. You pay for advertising based on the size of the audience, NOT on the size of the audience you want to reach. So the candidates will spend millions to reach Pennsylvania and New York State voters, just like the candidates for New York mayor will reach New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut. Is this one reason the frontrunner for New Jersey governor is a self-financed gazillionaire? And the phenomenon is even more pronounced when smaller and smaller districts are involved.
Way back in 1984, Jay Rockefeller bought time on Pittburgh and Washington TV to reach the panhandles of West Virginia - and those counties provided the winning margin. I vaguely recall seeing ads for a Wisconsin candidate - and I can't remember who! - on Cedar Rapids, Iowa television. The idea was to reach tiny Crawford County, the one piece of Wisconsin in an Iowa media market.
More than just the specifics of broadcasting, the DMAs serve as a rough indication of regional identity, athletic loyalties, cultural orbit. There's a Cubs-Cardinals baseball line somewhere in the middle of Illinois. When you're going "into town" do you mean Dubuque or LaCrosse, Omaha or Des Moines, Wichita or Kansas City? (Forgive my midwestern perspective, but it's relevant. Keep reading.)
Broadcast TV is a sledgehammer approach best suited to statewide or national campaigns, while cable is a smart bomb that can target precisely in terms of geographics and demographics.
But what about a national race?
It's a reality - perhaps intuitive - that the tiny sliver of undecided voters in a national race, if tuned in to news at all, are looking at the local live at 5 cast. At the local news level the journalistic imperative, no matter how national or global the story, is the local angle. You don't cover the Iraq War, you cover the local unit that got shipped out. You cover the political campaign when it comes to town. And this is something that could be used to bring different states into play.
While DMAs cross state lines, they are divided along county lines, so it's possible to calculate demographics AND election results for each. But has anyone done so? Here are some questions to ask:
A couple strategic visits, a little ad buy could make a difference in a small state. Without running the numbers, look at, say, the Fargo, North Dakota market. North Dakota is pretty dark red, and too small to be worth the fight. But that one media market covers a vast majority of the state's population. The added bonus that really makes the case is that a huge chunk of the media market spills over into increasingly close Minnesota. So why not hit Fargo? You get two-state media coverage, North Dakota goes blue for at least a day, and northwest Minnesota gets a nice hit. Maybe you even put the GOP on the defensive and make them spend a day in the Great Plains that they might have spent in Ohio.
You don't have to do it everywhere. There's no benefit to hitting Utah; the whole state is the Salt lake City market, the overlap into other states is minimal, and it's unwinnable. But why not try it a couple places. Consider this journey south from Fargo:
Twelve electoral votes in the Dakotas and Kansas, plus the one in Omaha. But the real target is the 28 votes of Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri - and on another level, small town and rural voters in other competitive states. We end our journey there; Oklahoma is hopeless and Tulsa doesn't spill over into Missouri. But there may be other such journeys. Consider the Idaho Panhandle, in the Spokane, Washington TV market and next to Montana. It's not impossible to imagine winning Montana - just ask their Democratic governor.
Maybe some academic with ties to political science and broadcasting should run the numbers. (Maybe I should step up to the plate?)
The clincher: In addition to the wall-to-wall local live at 5, you'd get national coverage with a dog-bites-man twist. By going to a place like Fargo or Couer d'Alene, even if the state stays non-competitive, the candidate creates the impression that they're fighting for every vote in every state.