4.7 million ads aired for 2020 U.S. elections at total cost of $2.3 billion

At least 4.7 million ads have been aired for the 2020 elections in the United States at a total cost of $2.3 billion, according to two American professors who have been tracking political advertising for this year’s elections.

About $500 million has been spent by Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Facebook and Google ads, while about $1 billion has been spent so far by the campaigns on TV ads.

Television ads are not declining as predicted over the years while digital ads have increased dramatically from 1 percent in 2010 to 27 percent of the total ads expenditure this year, the professors said.

Dr. Michael Franz, a Professor of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College, and Dr. Travis Ridout, the Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and Policy and Director of the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at Washington State University, are two of the three co-directors from the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising in the United States.

The project has tracked political ads in 210 media markets in the United States from early 2019 to September 2020.

A media market, a geographic area that is served by broadcast television stations, is important because that’s one of the ways in which campaigns buy political advertising.

This map shows you the balance of Joe Biden and Donald Trump advertising in each of those 210 media markets from April through early September of this year.  
This map shows you the balance of Joe Biden and Donald Trump advertising in each of those 210 media markets from April through early September of this year.

Dr. Franz’s research interests include campaign finance, political advertising, and interest groups. He’s the author or co-author of four books, including “The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising,” and “Choices and Changes: Interest Groups in the Electoral Process,” while Dr. Ridout has published extensively on political campaigns, political advertising, and campaign finance. Professor Ridout’s most recent book is “Political Advertising in the United States.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8embWFtiPM

Dr. Franz and Dr. Ridout, who addressed foreign journalists at a media event organized by the New York Foreign Press Center of the United States Department of State, said the ads aired and the billions of dollars already spent were for the presidential race, the governorship, senate, house of representative elections and others.

This slide shows you total ad airings and total spending on political ads in the United States since early 2019. And so there have been 4.7 million ad airings at a total cost of $2.3 billion on broadcast and national cable television.

This map shows you the balance of Joe Biden and Donald Trump advertising in each of those 210 media markets from April through early September of this year. 
This map shows you the balance of Joe Biden and Donald Trump advertising in each of those 210 media markets from April through early September of this year.

“Now that’s not all in the presidential race. In fact, I’d picked out a variety of races just to show you how it’s distributed. So U.S. Senate races, $464 million in spending; $148 million in spending in U.S. House races. There’s even spending on ads for county sheriff races – $1.2 million in this current election cycle,” Dr. Ridout said.

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According to him, the digital ads have increased from about 1 percent in 2010 to 27 percent so far in 2020, with the money going mainly to Facebook and Google and very little trickling down to media houses.

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“In 2010, it’s about 1 percent. By 2016 that reaches 14 percent, 20 percent in 2018. Early estimates are that digital spending will constitute about 27 percent of ad spending in this race,” Dr. Ridout said.

The focus of the Wesleyan Media Project is tracking the volume of spending across the country, what are in those ads, what messages campaigns and other outside groups put in those advertisements and what they’re saying to voters.

The project also focuses on the tone of the campaign, how negative or positive is the campaign, and how has that changed over time.

According to Dr. Franz, between 2000 and 2018, there has been an increase in negativity.

“There’s been some declines in 2016 and in 2018 relative to previous cycles, but the share or the percentage of ads that aired on television in these races, they’re much higher than they were when we started this work and much higher than when John Geer ended his analysis around 2000. And so there’s a lot of negativity on television, and this is all ads that aired on television,” he said.

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“But one thing that the decline in 2018 masks, sort of this last time series point here over on the far right, is that this is just a percentage of ads that aired, and we also should count up how many times these ads aired to show you volume. And one of the things that was really unique about 2018 is that the volume of airings was way, way up over it had been in previous cycles.

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“So on the left side here is – I definitely want you to think about the time series with respect to percentage of the ads that aired. And you can see in 2018 the percentage of attack ads was slightly lower than what it was in the previous cycles, around 40 percent. And then you can see the distribution of promotional and contrast ads,” Dr. Franz added.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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