Even without a Presidential election, ad spending totals for the 2021-2022 election cycle will approach $9 billion. This follows a whopping 244% surge in media spending in the 2019-2020 election cycle ($9.02 billion), when compared to the 2015-2016 cycle, according to AdImpact.
There are gubernatorial races in 36 states this election cycle and numerous House and Senate seats up for grabs, which, depending on the outcome of the races, could flip control of both chambers.
AdImpact notes that the 2021-2022 figure is impressive and a little surprising based on conventional wisdom that assumes more subdued electoral activity this year. “But so far this cycle, the data we’re seeing shows a major increase in spending activity over past cycles,” the group said. “Our forecasted 2021-2022 figure is impressive but is grounded in historical data. Our analysis shows that political media activity in Q2 of 2021 was 107% higher than Q2 of 2019, which is surprising given that the 2020 cycle had a presidential race.”
Candidates have more cash on hand thanks to new online fundraising options, such as ActBlue and WinRed. Those running for political office have flexibility to spend earlier than past election cycles.
“As competitive races up and down the ballot begin to prepare and execute ad campaigns, digital fundraising will continue to play a pivotal role in helping candidates collect cash to spend throughout the election,” the report read. “And if our forecast proves correct, that spending will rival 2020 in hopes of giving either party a better chance of winning on Election Day.”
Even without a Presidential race, competitive Senate, House and Gubernatorial elections mean that voters will be targeted with a high volume of broadcast ads on radio, TV and social media.
Meanwhile, in a Q&A session with Forbes, Cumulus Media Executive VP, Corporate Marketing and Westwood One President Suzanne Grimes made the case for radio to get more of the political ad spend.
“Radio is miscast as the place to find tiny niche audiences – it should be utilized as a mass voter-reach platform. Data and analytics will help justify a greater role for radio,” she said. “Nielsen reports radio reaches more registered voters than local broadcast TV. Half of U.S. voters are now light TV viewers, impossible to reach on local broadcast TV. AM/FM radio reaches 90% of America’s light TV viewers. For the first time, Nielsen has integrated radio into its Nielsen Media Impact media optimization platform. The results are stunning. Shifting 20% of the TV budget to radio causes a massive surge in voters reached. We now have Nielsen proof that radio makes your political TV better.”
Many of the political ad buys come from special interest groups, with these organizations accounting for 51% of spending last election cycle. “In some cases, issue groups advertising in favor of a candidate or an initiative outspend candidates by as much as $170 million, like in the 2020 race for NC Senate,” AdImpact explained. “These groups also pay much higher rates than candidates, requiring them to dole out more cash.”
The group says its political projections will likely adapt as the electoral landscape changes. “Unexpected retirements, strong fundraising, redistricting, and unforeseen, galvanizing issues can, and will, cause the election landscape to shift,” they said. “We will periodically update our forecast, but these initial projections can be considered a baseline for how things look at this moment in time.”