Advertising spending spree lifts “No on 1” campaign as polling shows grassroots support for ballot initiative fading

"No on 1" campaign/PAC outspending the "Yes on 1" campaign/PAC.
"No on 1" campaign/PAC outspending the "Yes on 1" campaign/PAC.

By Trevor Ballantyne
Boston University Statehouse Program

BOSTON – New England Patriots fans watching their team roll to victory Monday night may have noticed more political messaging during commercial breaks than normal after the “No on 1” campaign spent millions on high-priced television advertising earlier this month.

But new polling data shows support for the ballot question is waning, ironically because voters appear to be taking their cues from nurses, not advertising.

Approval of Question 1 would limit how many patients could be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals and is one of three voter referendum questions on the ballot in the state’s upcoming elections on Nov 6.

Beginning on Sept. 15, the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety, which opposes the question, paid almost $6 million to 11 top local television stations over a span of 20 days, according to expenditure reports published this month by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

View on Tableau.

The advertising dollars were dispersed under the direction GMMB, Inc., the Washington, DC based political communications firm paid by the committee to create them. Overall in 2018, GMMB, Inc. directed over $10 million in advertising purchases involving over 100 different media buyers, and radio and television stations located in Massachusetts and across the country.

In addition to major local television stations, other entities to receive advertising funding from the “No on 1” campaign include Spotify, Fox News Channel, and the Boston-based public relations firm Dewey Square Group.

On the other side of the referendum question, analysis of expenditure reports from the committee behind the ballot initiative reveals a more modest campaign marked by frequent transactions with a variety of local vendors.

For its part, Yes on 1 paid Nashville based Counterpoint Messaging $5,983,590.95 to create content and buy advertising space but, most of the Yes on 1 campaign’s expenditures reflect a more ground-level approach.

View on Tableau.

With over $10 million in funding from the Massachusetts Nursing Association, the Committee to Ensure Patient Safety repaid the association, its top donor, over $1 million for campaign organizing activities in 2018. The line items for the reimbursements including wages for employees, postage charges, and T-shirts for field organizers.

View on Tableau.

Springfield based JFE Associates and Anderson Robbins Research in Boston also collected hundreds of thousands in payments for organization services including polling research, signature collection services, and mailing petitions to town clerks across the state.

At the literal grass roots level, the “Yes on 1” campaign bought nearly $40,000 in lawn signs printed by Thriftco Speedi Print Center, Inc. Open since 1995, corporate filings show the Peabody printing shop is owned by retired Peabody City Council member Barry Sinewitz.

A much bigger lawn sign, an actual billboard in Lawrence, was rented until the week before the election after the committee made a $29,250 payment in August to South Kingston, RI-based Billboard Connections.

In the digital realm, “Yes on 1” worked with CK Strategies in Boston. Founded in 2014 by North Reading native Chris Keohan, the company received $1.4 million in 2018 from the committee, including over $300,000 to buy online advertising spots.

Other tech-centric expenses include predictive dialing services and email lists. Over the summer, the committee purchased a “sign for a drone,” printed by Standard Modern Co. as part of a nearly $70,000 contract with the New-Bedford based business.

Perhaps a small bellwether of success for Question 1 supporters seeking to connect with voters are receipt figures showing more than $27,000 contributed to the committee in 2018, mostly from individuals not affiliated with any labor union or association and list nurse as their occupation.

But, despite these minor returns – and the “sign for a drone” – a new poll from Suffolk University and the Boston Globe suggests the “Yes on 1” campaign is losing ground to the potency of its opposition’s advertising less than a week before the election.

A “downward shift in support for the question between September and October has occurred in all demographics,” according to a press release released by the university on the poll’s results that included a 95 percent confidence level.

“The poll finds Question 1 is opposed 59 percent to 32 percent, flipping nearly the same margins from the September poll.”

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