The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the constitutional right to abortion had a major impact on campaign advertising during the 2022 midterm election cycle, according to a new Ad Age Campaign Ad Scorecard analysis. Campaign Ad Scorecard is part of Ad Age’s Campaign Trail coverage, a project of Ad Age Datacenter, led by Director of Data Management Kevin Brown in partnership with Kantar/CMAG.
Here’s what you need to know:
• Ad Age Datacenter asked Kantar to analyze its comprehensive database of midterm ads—covering U.S. Senate, U.S. House, gubernatorial and other key races—for ads tagged as including “abortion” and abortion-related terms (e.g., “pro-choice” and “pro-life”).
• Working with Kantar, we looked at midterm ads across two periods: Jan 1. through June 24, and June 25 through Sept. 27. June 24 is the day the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization resulted in the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We’ll henceforth refer to the first period as pre-Dobbs and the second as post-Dobbs.
• It’s important to keep in mind that Democratic and Republican abortion-related campaign advertising began to shift even before June 24, given that on May 2 Politico published a blockbuster story, based on a leaked document, headlined “Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion shows.” But for the purposes of this analysis, we’re sticking with the date on which the Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade.
• Pre-Dobbs, Republican candidates were considerably more enthusiastic about using abortion as a campaign issue in their advertising, deploying it in 116,123 commercial airings. Post-Dobbs, that number fell to 34,390. Of course, part of that decline can be attributed to the fact that the pre-Dobbs period covers nearly six months, vs. roughly three months for the post-Dobbs period—though it’s also important to remember that active campaigns often increase their volume of advertising in the final months leading up to the general election.
• In contrast to Republicans, Democrats dramatically increased their use of abortion as a campaign issue post-Dobbs—in 257,694 commercial airings, vs. 79,416 pre-Dobbs.
• In terms of spending on abortion-related ads, Democrats ($21.7 million) and Republicans ($20.9 million) had near-parity in the pre-Dobbs period. Post-Dobbs, Democrats’ spending on abortion-related ads surged (to $57.9 million) while Republicans’ spending on abortion-related ads plunged (to $5.7 million).
• All told, abortion-related messaging was a feature of nearly half a million political ad airings, at an estimated cost of nearly $107 million, according to Kantar/CMAG.
• The shift in Republican abortion-related advertising is consistent with other recent reports regarding other campaign messaging channels. For instance, Axios reported in August that various Republican candidates across the country were either eliminating or softening hard-line anti-abortion language on their official campaign websites. (Polls in the post-Dobbs period have shown that many Republican voters never actually wanted or expected total abortion bans. See, for instance, “Vast majority of Republicans support abortion exceptions for rape, incest and mother’s health,” per NBC News last week.)
• To provide some context on the volume and spending surrounding abortion-related political ads, Ad Age Datacenter also analyzed Kantar data related to two other hot-button issues: gun control and climate change—although in both cases there were, of course, no relevant pre- and post-ruling periods, so the data shown in the second chart below covers a single period: Jan. 1 through Sept. 27.
• Per usual with Ad Age Campaign Scorecard, we’ve also calculated total campaign ad spending for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, gubernatorial and other key races in the U.S. midterm elections, as seen in the last chart below. (To be clear, this covers all kinds of political advertising—not just ads that mention abortion, gun control and/or climate change.) The tally—which includes spending on ads (booked or spent) for TV, radio and digital between Dec. 28, 2021, and Election Day as of Oct. 19, 2022—now stands at $4.3 billion.