For much of this year, we've been forced to obsess about shady, slippery political messaging in the digital realm, especially on social platforms. We've collectively gotten used to the idea that when it comes to politics online (not only obvious political advertising, but divisive content that may seem only vaguely connected to politics), nothing is what it seems.
How much of it is there? What even defines "it"? And how much spending, exactly, is behind whatever "it" is? Nobody—not even the platform bosses—seems to know for sure. (See: Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey during their Senate hearings last week, not to mention Mark Zuckerberg, who described the process of tamping back election interference online as "an arms race" in a Washington Post op-ed.)
Against that backdrop, good old-fashioned traditional TV and radio political advertising seems like a triumph of transparency. The limited inventory available on a discrete number of outlets means that basic math, refreshingly, applies. And FCC and FEC regulation means that hide-and-seek is a lot harder to pull off. (Although, of course, the money behind the money—namely, the secretive backers of certain super PACs—is another story.)
To track and analyze TV (broadcast, cable and satellite) and radio political advertising, Ad Age Datacenter (specifically, Kevin Brown, Bradley Johnson and Catherine Wolf) has partnered with Kantar Media's CMAG (Campaign Media Analysis Group). As the midterm elections approach, we've been keeping a close eye on key battlegrounds in congressional and gubernatorial races.
For now, here's your executive summary of what we've seen so far just in campaign spending for U.S. Senate seats across the country. From April 26, 2017, through Election Day of this year (we've been tracking advance bookings as well as spending to date), there's been an outlay of $498.4 million on TV and radio advertising. That's across just the 13 major Senate races we're following, with Democrats and Republicans competing to outdo each other in what's already become the most costly midterm Senate TV-radio advertising battle in history.
At the moment, Democrats (and pro-Dem PACs and other such organizations) have outspent Republicans (and pro-GOP PACs and other orgs) $260 million to $234.4 million.
Astonishingly, competitive Senate races in just three states—Florida, Missouri and Nevada (with Florida taking the crown at $128.5 million)—account for more than half of the $498.4 million tally.
Stay tuned to the AdAge.com/CampaignTrail in the weeks ahead as we examine examples of the political ad creative that has invaded airwaves in our 13 states and beyond. Spoiler: It's not only (predictably) negative, but downright scoldy—from a Montana PAC slamming Sen. Jon Tester for missing "more than 60% of all committee hearings" to the Sen. Ted Cruz campaign in Texas taking challenger Beto O'Rourke to task for swearing a lot in public.
Also coming up: deep dives into the spending behind key U.S. House of Representatives and gubernatorial races.