US Insights

2020 Political Ad Spending Update

Steve Passwaiter

VP, General Manager Kantar Media/CMAG

Politics 02.25.2020 / 10:00

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Television ad spending in the 2020 presidential contest has spiked to unprecedented levels.

Thanks to billionaire Michael Bloomberg, television ad spending in the 2020 presidential contest has spiked to unprecedented levels. Well over half a billion dollars ($626 million) has been spent so far, with Bloomberg splashing out more half the total ($333 million), and fellow billionaire Tom Steyer dropping another $157 million. Taken altogether, the Democrats have spent 96 percent of the total to date—with President Donald Trump’s essentially uncontested primary campaign spending a comparatively paltry $18 million dollars (and an outside group supporting his re-election kicking in an additional $4 million). In comparison, even with competitive contests in both parties, only $269 million (through 2/15/2016) had been spent at this point in 2016.

Candidates spent far less in Iowa and New Hampshire this cycle, however: New Hampshire attracted $44 million and Iowa came in at $71 million this year compared to $120 million in NH and $80 million in IA in 2016. With Bloomberg sitting out those early contests, it was Steyer who dominated that ad spend, with $19 million spent in NH and $16 million in Iowa.

Bloomberg’s strategy is unorthodox. He’s aired 39 different creatives, both attacking Trump, and telling his own story. Of the 39 unique creatives Bloomberg has aired on Broadcast and National Cable TV, 25 of them (64 percent of his creatives) attacked Trump, and of the 345K spots he has run on the air, 268K (78 percent) of them have targeted Trump. He’s spent the most money in the large and delegate-rich states of California ($41 million), Texas ($33 million), and Florida ($30 million), where he’s had the field virtually to himself. And while there is potential for Bloomberg’s ads to influence the general election contest in November regardless of whether he gets his party’s nomination or not, only 25 percent of his ad spend has been directed at likely battleground states: Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan.

Though the Bloomberg story is dominating the headlines, and political professionals are focused on who is spending where geographically and what they are saying, there are other important signals coming through. Analyzing which platforms are attracting the most money so far may tell us something about where advertising dollars are likely to flow as the campaign unfolds.  In other words, this campaign season, we’re witness to three heated battles: within the Democratic party, between the Democrats and Republicans, and among people who sell advertising.


Looking at the three major spenders to date—Bloomberg, Steyer, and Trump—as well as the rest of the field combined reveals markedly different advertising spending strategies. The Bloomberg campaign has spent nearly 80 percent of its ad dollars on television, with almost all of the spend flowing to broadcast outlets: $302 million, compared to only $29 million for cable. Steyer directed an even greater proportion of his budget towards television (81 percent), but dedicated a third of his television spending to cable TV. Donald Trump and the rest of field are allocating a far greater share of their ad spending to digital than Bloomberg and Steyer, with Trump spending more than two out of three ad dollars online, and other Democratic sponsors, on average, budgeting one third of their ad dollars to online platforms. Spending on radio and Hispanic media is barely registering so far this cycle, with Trump ignoring both of them completely.

Bloomberg’s unparalleled spending spree has made us rethink our original $6b estimate in campaign spending. We’d already anticipated a livelier general election at the Presidential level and assumed 2018 levels of spending across Senate and House races. We’ve also noted that the remaining Democratic candidates are not spending as much as we thought before the contest but the trend has a strong upwards feel thanks to Mike Bloomberg. We’ll keep a close eye on how spending continues to flow after Super Tuesday but we feel comfortable raising our estimate to $6.5b, an increase of about 8% over our original estimate.

Source: Kantar

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