Political advertising was one of the categories that helped media companies fill in the gaps of any slowdown in ad spending by traditional marketers this year. And with the final races now complete, analysts at the political ad tracking firm AdImpact say 2022 was the most expensive midterm election cycle on record with an estimated $8.9 billion spent, easily topping the $3.9 billion invested during the 2018 midterms.
“This year's midterm cycle spending more closely resembled that of a presidential cycle, coming just $119 million shy of 2020, the most expensive political cycle of all time,” says AdImpact in its report after closing the books on the campaign.
One of the biggest surprises of the season was that politicians dedicated fewer dollars to digital advertising that two years ago. AdImpact says traditional media still continues to rope in the largest share of spending with television capturing an astounding 73% share of total spending, down slightly from the 76% that TV had during the 2020 campaign. That translated into $4.7 billion in total spending on broadcast television during the 2022 election, plus another $1.7 billion on cable TV.
“While linear media maintained historical spending shares, digital spending on Facebook and Google took a noticeable dip from 2020 to 2022,” says the report. AdImpact says Facebook and Google had $980 million of political ads during this year’s election cycle. That is a steep 45% decline from the $1.7 billion that the two companies pocketed from political ads during the 2020 race. Democrats spent 61% of their ad dollars on digital this year nevertheless, outpacing Republican’s 39% share.
“A major source for 2022’s digital decline was the absence of a presidential election topping the ticket,” the report says. It points out that in 2020, over $850 million was spent by presidential candidates on Facebook and Google.
Despite being the party in power in Washington, the Democrats outperformed historical expectations during the midterm elections. Advertising may have had something to do with that. AdImpact says in House, Senate, and gubernatorial general elections in 2022, Democrat candidates and issue groups outspent their Republican counterparts by $2.11 billion to $1.72 billion – or a $390 million gap.
The analysis also shows Democrats also took more advantage of federal law that requires radio and television stations to give lowest unit rates to federal candidates. That is because Democratic candidates outspent Republican candidates by more than double ($1.06 billion vs. $498 million), while the GOP issue groups that pay full price outspent their Democratic counterparts by about $100 million ($1.06 billion vs. $986 million).
“Because of the advantageous rates afforded to candidates, this translated to Democrats in House, Senate, and Gubernatorial general elections being able to run nearly 25% more broadcast airings than Republicans,” AdImpact says.
Geographically, California had the biggest total at $910 million spent. But AdImpact points out it was not Senate, House or gubernatorial contests that led to such a large number, since they accounted for $183 million of the total. Instead, it was several ballot initiatives that drove up spending. That was led by $274 million worth of ads that were bought related to a sports betting proposal.
The just-completed runoff race in Georgia helped make that state the second-biggest overall in 2022 with $588 million worth of political ads. That put it ahead of both Pennsylvania ($552 million) and Arizona ($447 million), which also had competitive Senate races.
The GOP sweep of the big contests in Florida also had an impact on how much was spent on advertising. “One of the major surprises of the 2022 election cycle was the decline of political spending in Florida,” the report says. AdImpact says $333 million was spent during the midterm in Florida, below the $549 million spent in the state in 2022 or the $502 million spent in 2018. “This downturn in spending coincided with its shift from a battleground to a likely Republican state,” says AdImpact.
The total $8.9 billion that was spent was actually less than $9.7 billion that AdImpact had projected for the cycle. But it was enough to support a wide variety of political messages. The analysis says one of the defining characteristics of the 2022 midterm was how big a role abortion rights played in ad messages. It calculates 19% of all political ads this cycle referred to abortion – mostly by Democrats.
At the same time, Republicans focused their messages on taxation, crime, President Biden, and inflation. Each was mentioned in at least 19% of the GOP ads.