Television ads are the bread and butter of political campaign strategy, as they can be used to reach a large number of voters with a simple message. During the 2016 election, more than 920,000 political ads were sent over the airwaves, costing campaigns collectively $761 million.
The 2020 election is on track to significantly outpace that number.
FiveThirtyEight released a new analysis looking at data from Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group that compared ad spending so far in 2019 with data from the same point in 2015. They found that there have been more than twice as many television ad spots as the 2016 race.
Below are some highlights from their analysis that will give you a good idea of how many television spots we could be expected to see over the next year.
“From January 1 through October 20, 2019, campaigns and outside groups spent an estimated $33.3 million on 76,030 television ad spots for the 2020 presidential election. By contrast, through the week of Oct. 18, 2015, campaigns and outside groups had aired only 32,191 TV spots — despite spending more money than they have so far this year ($43.1 million compared with $33.3 million).”
“[A] total of 73,117 pro-Democratic spots have been aired in the presidential race so far compared with only 23,649 spots aired in 2015 by Republicans…”
Self-funding billionaire Tom Steyer has “aired 59,615 spots touting his candidacy, or 78 percent of all 2020 presidential spots so far — dropping an estimated $23.2 million in the process. In fact, without Steyer, advertising levels in the 2020 race look a lot more like 2016. Only 16,415 spots have been aired by sponsors other than Steyer, which is right in between the 23,649 GOP spots and the 8,388 Democratic spots aired through this point in 2015.”
“[S]uper PACs are playing much less of a role this year. At this point in 2015, outside groups were behind 69 percent of all spots that had been aired, but here in 2019, campaigns have accounted for 98 percent of the spots so far.”