Spending on political ads is projected to approach $6 billion next year, reflecting explosive growth that's likely to saturate television screens and digital experiences in key markets.
A new analysis by Advertising Analytics, a nonpartisan firm that tracks the ad industry, estimates that campaigns will spend almost twice as much on broadcast and cable TV ads as the amount spent during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle.
And a new emphasis on digital advertising, aimed at reaching those who watch little to no conventional television, is likely to add another $1.6 billion.
Spending will exceed the amount from the 2018 midterms by about 57 percent, the firm projected. Last year, candidates and their supporters poured more than $3.8 billion into advertisements.
The battle for the White House will account for nearly half of political ad dollars, and several key battleground states are likely to be blanketed with TV and digital ads for months. Advertising Analytics predicted the two sides combined will spend at least $100 million in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada.
Much of the spending increase will be driven by President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE, whose campaign was vastly outspent by Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' No Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way MORE in 2016. This time around, Trump’s campaign has already raised hundreds of millions of dollars, foreshadowing a significant uptick in ads when the general election contest begins in earnest.
Even before Democrats pick their nominee, the party’s candidates are likely to spend almost $1 billion reaching voters. Three-quarters of that amount is likely to be spent in just six states, including the first four that will hold nominating contests, along with Florida and California, homes of big pools of delegates.
Democratic candidates are likely to spend nearly $250 million reaching primary voters in New Hampshire alone, and another $125 million ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Jockeying for control of the House of Representatives has become a billion-dollar battle as well. That fight is fueled in part by a changing political landscape, said Ty Matsdorf, a media strategist who held senior positions at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A decade ago, Democrats and Republicans fought the fiercest battles in places like Asheville, N.C., and Bloomington, Ind., relatively inexpensive media markets where purchasing a single TV ad might cost $40 or less. Today, the most contested races are in major suburban areas around Minneapolis, Miami and Dallas, much more expensive markets where 30 seconds of airtime sets a campaign back a few hundred dollars or more.
“The cost of doing business has gone up,” Matsdorf said.
The two sides are likely to spend less on the battle for the Senate, a reflection of the relative lack of hotly contested races on the ballot for 2020. Six years ago, when Democrats held seats in red states like Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana, both parties spent heavily. But now that those seats are in Republican hands, they are less likely to attract ad dollars.
Instead, the most spending will come in Arizona and Colorado, where Sens. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Business groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter MORE (R-Ariz.) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerEleven interesting races to watch in 2022 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA MORE (R-Colo.) are fighting tough reelection battles; each state is likely to see more than $100 million in ad spending next year. North Carolina, Maine, Kentucky and Georgia are also likely to see spending top $50 million.
The diversification of media outlets has required campaigns and strategists to think differently about reaching voters who might have cut cords or who watch television through streaming services or online.
“Your methods also depend on who you’re trying to reach,” said Carl Forti, a media strategist who directed advertising spending at the National Republican Congressional Committee. “If you’re trying to reach your diehard supporters for fundraising or turnout, the mix would be much different than if you’re trying to reach undecided voters, for example.”
The two sides spent a combined $740 million on digital advertising and video in the 2018 midterm cycle, after spending a negligible amount in the 2016 campaign. This cycle, digital spending is projected to top $1.6 billion, accounting for about a quarter of overall ad spending.
“A lot of the digital targeting, you can use first-party data, which makes it really valuable. I can take my voter list and match it against IP addresses on mobile devices and desktops and deliver video directly to the people I want to communicate with,” said Kyle Roberts, president and CEO of Advertising Analytics. “The impression base is so large you can spend a lot of money reaching your very specific audience.”
That means, for the first time, campaigns and parties will spend more money on digital video and advertising than they will on cable TV advertising. Roberts said that is in part a reflection of the growing number of options available to both viewers and advertisers.
“The fragmentation continues to increase,” he said. “That trend hurts the traditional methods of viewing.”