WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has shown more than 586 hours of television ads in the general election, and until now something has been missing: his voice.
There is no footage of him speaking, no archival recordings to build out his life story and no direct-to-camera appeals to voters. He doesn’t utter a word other than the legally required recording, “I’m Donald Trump, and I approve this message,” at the end of his commercials.
That’s about to change. In one of the final ads of the race, the Republican presidential nominee will take his case to the voters, his campaign says.
Americans have been subjected to more than $500 million in TV ads — $88 million and counting just this week — since the contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton began in June.
With the election days away, The Associated Press analyzed Kantar Media’s ad data to find out what the candidates have been telling voters about themselves. The review covered 22 Trump campaign ads and 68 by the Clinton campaign, which had aired more than 311,000 times by Monday on national networks, local broadcast channels and national cable stations.
AP found a lack of Trump’s voice in his own commercials and an overabundance of his words in Clinton’s. That’s helped drive what is by far the most dominant message of general election advertising, that each candidate believes the other is unfit for the White House.
Trump has been silent in his ads because his campaign wanted them “not be centered around him but the movement itself,” said Jessica Ditto, a Trump spokeswoman.
A different view: The campaign “may have concluded that voters like the idea of Trump more than the actual Trump,” said Will Ritter, co-founder of the Republican ad firm Poolhouse and an outspoken Trump critic. “They could worry that when he opens his mouth, people are reminded he is in no way prepared to be president.”
That’s what Clinton’s campaign is hoping.
More than half of her ads hold Trump against himself, the AP found. They feature Trump appearing to mock a disabled reporter, using profanity at rallies, seeming to threaten to use nuclear weapons and making disparaging and predatory comments about women.
To hammer Clinton, Trump’s ads talk about Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, her response to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi and her untrustworthiness.
Beneath the avalanche of attack ads are positive — sometimes even issues-focused — commercials. Clinton has an ad solely on the importance of clean energy, while Trump has one about the need to put coal miners back to work.
But neither candidate is focusing ads on issues he or she brings while campaigning, the AP found.
At his giant rallies, Trump frequently says he’ll redo trade deals. That topic gets few mentions in his advertising. When she’s addressing supporters, Clinton vows to make wealthy people pay their fair share by increasing taxes. She’s barely talking about that in ads.
CLINTON ISSUE ADS
Clinton’s chief advertising message is that she fights for children. Her ads dive into photo and video archives to showcase those parts of her resume, and actor Morgan Freeman describes Clinton in melodious cadence as “a woman who spent her life helping children and families.”
While only two less frequent Trump ads mention children, such ads dominate more than half of Clinton’s barrage of commercials.
“I’ve spent my life fighting for children, and I’m not stopping now,” Clinton says in an ad that’s been broadcast more than any other during the general election. The spot does not go into specific policy or achievements, but shows Clinton over the decades talking about children.
The same message is delivered in a new, end-of-campaign spot that has rocketed to the top of her play list. This one shows parents marking off the heights of their kids as Clinton says a country is judged by what it does for its children.
Clinton strategist Joel Benenson said such ads remind people of the work Clinton has done and tell voters something they may not know about her work for children, families and women. He also said it strikes a clear contrast with Trump.
“Donald Trump has a lifetime of really stiffing average people and putting himself first all the time,” he said.
TRUMP ISSUE ADS
Trump’s top advertising message to voters is that he would shake up Washington. The commercials not so subtly suggest a brighter future by switching from washed-out tones when Clinton is mentioned to full color when he is.
Trump is making more of a positive case for his presidency than Clinton does for herself in ads of the past few weeks, AP found. “It takes a builder to rebuild the American dream,” a narrator intones. “And Donald Trump has the blueprint.”
Viewers might not have expected that optimism; the Republican convention was far more downbeat than the Democrats’.
However, in recent days Trump has released some of his most brutal Clinton ads.
Trump’s most common commercial of the general election centers on the economy. “In Donald Trump’s America, working families get tax relief, millions of new jobs are created, wages go up, small businesses thrive,” a narrator says.
One of Trump’s newest ads, which he has deployed so heavily that it’s his second most common overall, seems to be a response to Clinton’s boast about her long record of public service.
“Hillary Clinton won’t change Washington; she’s been there 30 years,” the ad begins. “Taxes went up, terrorism spread, jobs vanished, but special interests and Washington insiders thrived.” The ad then says: “Donald Trump will turn Washington upside down, Day One.”
Keep track on how much Clinton and Trump are spending on television advertising, and where they’re spending it, via AP’s interactive ad tracker. http://elections.ap.org/content/ad-spending
Associated Press writer Lisa Lerer contributed to this report.