Political Ad Spend Reached New Heights This Year

Political Ad Spend Reached New Heights This YearIt’s all over except for the crying (if your preferred candidate didn’t win).

Now comes news — as if voters didn’t know — that spending on advertising (digital, print, and especially television commercials) for political candidates was again big business.

According to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, “Spending on television ads in federal and gubernatorial races in the 2013-14 election cycle has now topped $1 billion, with an estimated $1.19 billion spent from January 1, 2013 to October 23, 2014. That spending paid for over 2.2 million ad airings.”

For the record, the total of all political ad spend (print, TV, internet) soared above $4 billion.

That volume was down slightly from the last midterm election. The research showed that more than 600,000 ads were produced, almost 40 percent financed by what’s known as “dark money” (funds used to pay for election ads whose sponsors are not disclosed to voters).

But that’s not all. When other races are folded into the totals—other statewide offices, state representatives, ballot measures, and local offices—airings balloon to 2.96 million at an estimated cost of $1.67 billion.

The volume of advertising in House, Senate and gubernatorial races was down slightly from the previous midterm election cycle, when 2,433,017 ads aired (January 1, 2009 through Oct. 23, 2010) at a cost of $1.189 billion.

In both races for the House and Senate, Democrats aired more ads overall this cycle — spending that did the party little good this cycle. The Democratic advantage in Senate races was about 30,000 ads, while it is almost 55,000 ads in House races. Republicans held an advantage of almost 28,000 ads in races for governor.

Advertising in House races was down most significantly, 27 percent for Democratic ads and 37 percent for Republican spots.

“The decline in House ads is consistent with the scope of the battleground this cycle,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “No one expected control of the House to be much in doubt. The clear struggle for control is in Senate races.”

The most expensive race this election cycle was in North Carolina, where an estimated $62 million was spent on advertising. This is followed by Georgia, Colorado, Kentucky, and Michigan. Although the bulk of the spending is for general election races, some of the ad spending in each of these states was used for primary contests.

The Wesleyan Media Project is supported by grants from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and Wesleyan University.

Data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project using Academiclip, a web-based coding tool. The Wesleyan Media Project is partnering in 2014 with both the Center for Responsive Politics, to provide added information on interest group disclosure, and Ace Metrix, to assess ad effectiveness.

In addition, the Wesleyan Media Project is launching a new initiative and new web presence — AttackAds.org –aimed at educating voters about attack ads and dark money thanks to funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

To download a complete report with tables and charts, click here.