With just two weeks until Election Day, tightly contested House and Senate races are driving up an already record-setting political season.
According to MediaPost, Advertising Analytics estimates that spending on the 2020 election will reach $6.7 billion. And while $2.63 billion of that money has gone to the presidential race — compared to $855 million in 2016 — congressional spending isn’t far behind.
“Spending on Senate races is at $1.67 billion versus $989 million in the previous cycle,” says a MediaPost breakdown. “The House races are slightly lower — at $950 million versus $1.03 billion.”
The Ad Age Datacenter, which has tracked ad spending since 2019, has slightly different numbers but also reports record spending.
It finds that Republicans and Democrats have shelled out a combined $2.5 billion-plus in congressional races so far. As with the presidential race, Democrats have outspent Republicans — $877 million vs. $757 for the Senate; and $483 million vs. $388 million for the House. The GOP does hold a spending edge in gubernatorial contests, but it’s much smaller at $104 million vs. $98 million.
According to Ad Age, the congressional spend is driven by some big players. “When it comes to political ad spending in pursuit of, or in defense of, U.S. House of Representatives seats, four giant PACs spent 39% of the $876 million tracked by Ad Age Datacenter [a joint effort with Kantar/CMAG].
“House Majority PAC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are holding at $180 million combined,” Ad Age continues. “The two big Republican PACs, Congressional Leadership Fund and National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, have placed $162 million in media buys.”
Ad Age says the bulk of the spending has been in 10 states, with North Carolina topping the list at $399 million combined, followed by Florida ($393 million), Iowa ($329 million) and Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Texas, California — with each getting at least $235 million — and South Carolina ($189 million). Among those states, Republicans are outspending Democrats in only one — Georgia ($146 million vs. $103 million).
“Keep in mind that the Tar Heel State’s population is a lot less than the Sunshine State’s (10.5 million vs. 21.5 million), which makes the barrage of advertising targeted at North Carolinians even more insane on a per-capita basis,” Ad Age says.
Much of that spending centers on the Senate race between Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham, Ad Age says. “The total tracked ad spending for this seat (including during primary season) is hovering around $200 million, putting this race neck-and-neck with Iowa’s $195 million battle [between Republican Joni Ernst against Democratic nominee Theresa Greenfield]... Meanwhile, in Arizona, what a bargain! Democrat Mark Kelly has burned through a mere $53 million in tracked ad spending to attempt to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Martha McSally ($26 million).”