AUSTIN -- No matter where you turned, television viewers in 2012 saw plenty of political campaign advertisements.
Candidates and super PACSs spent more than $2 billion on the presidential race alone, and most of that was on advertising. The 2012 campaign season saw the growth of the super PAC as well as the smartphone as political tools.
The Super PAC App merged both, allowing users to identify sponsors, access fact checks and vote on political ads in real time. Voters were asked to rank ads on a four point scale from "Love," "Fair," "Fishy" to "Fail." Now that the election is over, the app's parent company Glassy Media has released a database of more than 38,000 individual votes tracking users' responses.
According to Glassy Media co-founder Dan Siegel, users were far more likely to respond in the extreme, either as "Love" or "Fail" as opposed to "Fair" or "Fishy." Users overwhelming preferred ads either supporting President Barack Obama or opposing Mitt Romney, which received 70 percent of all "Love" votes. About 71 percent of "Fail" votes went to ads either supporting Mitt Romney or opposing Obama.
One of the most popular ads overall was "Clear Choice," an Obama campaign ad featuring President Bill Clinton. Of the more than 700 votes it received, 73 percent responded favorably.
The most favorably rated ad by the Romney campaign as a percentage of responses was "Raising the Flag," a largely non-political ad featuring ordinary citizens talking about the importance of the American flag. Despite the seemingly universal message, it earned just over 50 percent positive feedback.
According to Siegel, supporters of both candidates were more disapproving of ads run by super PACs. Seventy-eight percent of app users disapproved of the ad "Cool" by conservative super PAC American Crossroads, which spent more than $100 million on the presidential election.
The app's access to fact checking sources didn't necessarily sway everyone. Just 55 percent of users responded negatively to "Understands," an ad by liberal super PAC Priorities USA Action that was widely criticized after attempting to connect Mitt Romney to a woman's death from cancer. The super PAC spent nearly $66 million on the president's reelection.
So what does it all mean?
"We think it might be an early indicator that voters and users of our app are savvy," said Siegel. "And that they know when an outside group that is less accountable and might be making claims that are less associated with actual facts, they're less inclined to love those ads or trust them."
"When we look at the end of the day, a lot of money was spent with very little gain," said St. Edward's University Political Science Professor Brian Smith, who breaks down the failure of super PACs to move the needle substantially for either candidate into two factors.
One is the lack of access to preferred advertising rates offered to candidates, resulting in super PACs spending more money than a candidate himself would have for the same advertising time.
"The other thing is coordination. Candidates are running a campaign and super PACs are running a campaign," said Smith. "Candidates are wanting to run one message, the super PACs are trying to run another, and sometimes you're getting mixed messages which hurts their ability to really influence people."
Despite their lack of success, Smith said super PACs likely won't be going anywhere any time soon. Since both sides took super PAC money and neither appeared to have "bought" the election as a result, Smith suggests the outcry against super PACs could begin to dwindle. That said, super PACs may alter their strategy in future campaigns in order to get more for their money.
"What we do know is money always finds an outlet. It always does in politics," said Smith. "When we close one loophole, another one opens up somewhere else. So the days of big spending are here to stay, but how they spend their money might be a lot different."
In the meantime, Siegel said Glassy Media is considering ideas to take the Super PAC App beyond politics. The company is exploring the possibility of connecting viewers of consumer ads to reviews revealing whether a product performs as advertised.