The silver lining in radio’s pandemic-ridden 2020 turned out to be political ad spending, driven primarily by both Presidential candidates during fourth quarter. New research from advertising analytics firm AdImpact shows just how much was spent, with numbers more than doubling that of 2018, itself a record-breaker.
Total political ad expenditure of $7.95 billion in 2020 surpassed both 2018 ($3.53 billion) and 2016 ($2.31 billion) combined, with $3.1 billion spent on the Presidential races.
A not-far-behind $2.5 billion was spent on Senate races – most notably those in Georgia – although, as noted by AdImpact, 2020 included nine of the ten most expensive Senate races.
The increased media spending reflects significant growth among Democratic candidates, especially early in 2020 when the two billionaires in the primaries, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, drove much of that ad money. Taking all 2020 races into account, Democrats outspent the GOP by nearly $750 million.
Focusing on just the Presidential race, the campaigns of Joe Biden, Bloomberg and Donald Trump wound up as the first, second and fourth highest-spending of all time, according to AdImpact. Senate race spending was driven not only by the Georgia race but contests in deep red states such as South Carolina and Kentucky, where online fundraising by Democratic candidates Jaime Harrison and Amy McGrath rivaled that of Presidential candidates in previous elections.
The consistent presence of political ads throughout 2020 also represented a key change in activity from previous election years. While the pandemic-delayed primaries led to soft spending early in the year, “ads came back with a vengeance in August,” says AdImpact, remaining a steady presence all the way through November.
Among major contributors to 2020’s election spending were significant increases in independent expenditures from major political action committees. Senate and House Majority PACs, for example, spent $229 million and $130 million respectively, more than tripling what was spent in 2016.
Indeed, in a tough year for radio, the medium benefited from increased political expenditures in 2020 nearly across the board, especially in fourth quarter. In addition to strong political ad activity in Q4 for iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media, Entercom reported $32 million in political ad sales for the year, $19 million of that in fourth quarter. Entravision Communications,one of the biggest media companies targeting Hispanic Americans, generated $28 million in political advertising, representing a 67% increase over the $17 million billed during the 2012 presidential election. And Christian/conservative Salem Media Group reported record political ad revenue of $6.6 million, topping its previous high of $5.5 million in 2012.