Presidential campaign ad spending surges past $1.5 billion
Editor’s note: This post includes spending data analysis by Ad Age Datacenter Director of Data Management Kevin Brown, with web production by Corey Holmes. Scroll down to see the charts.
The campaign cycle is finally starting to break out of its summer coma.
When it comes to campaign messaging and advertising, both the Trump and Biden campaigns have been in a strange, sort of awkward in-between phase through July and early August. Though we previously reported that Team Trump has been spending heavily to secure advance bookings of TV time for campaign ads set to air from Labor Day through Election Day, the campaign was thrown into disarray in mid-July when Trump demoted campaign manager Brad Parscale and handed the job to Republican political operative Bill Stepien—leading to a temporary freeze on TV advertising (pre-Labor Day, at least) while strategy got rethought.
The Biden campaign, meanwhile, seemed sometimes eerily quiet—not only because Biden has been hobbled by being unable to do traditional campaign events amidst the pandemic (in stark contrast to Trump, who has not hesitated to continue to command the bully pulpit that comes with his job), but because his campaign simply has not kept up with Trump in terms of booking advertising time.
Meanwhile, both campaigns had to sort out what to do about their parties’ massively downsized nominating conventions while transforming them into mostly virtual affairs.
But now Biden has announced a running mate, Kamala Harris, a move that has not only immediately re-energized Biden’s bid, but has prompted Trump to step up his attack mode (on Wednesday of last week, #nastywoman was a top trending hashtag on Twitter after Trump trotted out that favorite insult for Harris).
So as the Democratic National Convention unfolds this week, and with the RNC on the near horizon (Aug. 24-27), we’re taking stock.
The figures in the charts you see here come from the latest Ad Age Campaign Ad Scorecard analysis—an ongoing project led by Ad Age Datacenter Director of Data Management Kevin Brown in partnership with Kantar/CMAG. Here’s what you need to know:
Across the campaign advertising for the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races tracked by Ad Age Datacenter, we’ve now surged past the $3 billion mark—with more than half of that tally spent in the presidential race, thanks largely to an insanely expensive Democratic primary season dominated by two free-spending billionaires (remember Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer?).
That $3 billion figure includes TV and radio—plus digital ad spending across Facebook and Google properties for presidential andidates only. (TV and radio tallies include advance bookings, but digital doesn’t.)
Team Trump maintains the lead in booked TV and radio spending from Aug. 17 through Election Day with $179.6 million worth of ads on tap ($148.7 million from the campaign itself and another $30.9 million from pro-Trump PACs and other advocacy groups), while Team Biden has $81.1million booked (just $15.0 million by the campaign itself, with another $66.1 million courtesy of pro-Biden PACs and advocacy groups).
Total ad spending to date (TV and radio) on U.S. Senate races is closing in on a cool billion. Republicans have spent $463.0 million and Democrats $442.2 million so far.
For U.S. House races, total ad spending to date (TV and radio) sits at $419.1 million ($223.4 million from the Democrats and $192.3 million from the Republicans).
Total ad spending to date (TV and radio) on gubernatorial races is $161.6 million, with the Republicans maintaining a slight edge over the Dems ($80.8 million vs. $80.2 million).
A reminder that there is obviously plenty of campaign activity beyond tracked advertising that is likely to strain and distort the remainder of the election cycle. Consider, just for starters, the headlines from last Thursday—such as “Trump admits he’s refusing to fund the U.S. Postal Service to sabotage mail-in voting” (from Business Insider) in the wake of Trump’s Fox Business interview with Maria Bartiromo.
The Trump campaign probably would have preferred that the president hadn’t brazenly confessed such a thing on national TV—but it is what it is.