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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, April 1, 2014

Two announcements this week: CMAG is upwardly updating our projection for 2014 TV ad spending, and the Analyst Institute (D) scores a new executive director.

MARCH ADNESS. CMAG is raising our over/under for 2014 political TV ad spending by $200 million, to $2.6 billion. Back in October, we projected an over/under of $2.4 billion. Five months later, as we revisited the state of play for a talk for the Television Bureau of Advertising, recent developments had that figure looking more like the low end of a spread with a potential high of $2.8 billion.

On the one hand, we expect to see more outside group advertisers than ever with control of the Senate again in the balance and the super PAC wave really hitting the big governors’ cycle for the first time. More groups mean more advertisers who aren’t entitled to low rates or fair access to airtime.

On the other hand, we still expect that having relatively few top-50 (i.e., the 50 most expensive) media markets in play will repress ad spending. Only six top-50 markets are hosting both competitive Senate and governor races. Only two top-50 markets are hosting a trifecta of big competitive races—Senate, governor and at least one likely close House race: Detroit (#11) and Grand Rapids (#42).

Math and Money

About 75% of any competitive campaign’s overall spending goes to advertising. And according to calculations by the University of San Francisco’s Ken Goldstein, about 57% of the advertising budget in a midterm year goes to local broadcast TV. Media share in 2014 should look very roughly like this:

TypeBudget Percentage
Local TV57%
Local cable15%
Direct mail15%
Digital7%
Radio4%
Print2%

According to Open Secrets, total election spending between the 2006 midterm cycle and 2010 soared by about $1 billion, from $3.7 billion to $4.8 billion. This was due largely to a torrent of money from outside groups. (Meg Whitman dropping $160 million on the California governor’s race didn’t hurt, either.) A similar sized increase from 2010 to 2014—not to say there definitely will be one—would put us close to $6 billion. Fifty-seven percent of $4.5 billion (which is 75% of $6 billion) is $2.57 billion, for our over/under of $2.6 billion.

Sources in the local cable industry are sticking with their earlier projection of $600 million to $800 million in local cable ad spending (15% of $4.5 billion is $675 million).

Outside group spending on TV remains the wild card. Total spending on congressional races ballooned by $800 million between 2006 and 2010 (the other $200 million of the increase happened in governors’ races). But total spending on congressional races remained flat between 2010 and the presidential year of 2012, inching from $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion. How much of the money that flowed to groups for the presidential race will now flow to congressional races in 2014? A big influx could boost spending on Senate and House races well above $6 billion—or that money could stay on the sidelines awaiting 2016.

While we’re wary of making too much of one ad campaign, the early assault by Americans for Prosperity has had a significant impact. Not only has AFP directly injected early money into the marketplace itself—its ads have forced Democratic groups and candidates to take to the air in defense, paying non-discounted ad rates. The ads also have undercut several Democratic incumbents’ poll standings, as our Senate editor Jennifer Duffy has noted, making them look weaker, sooner, and making control of the Senate look more attainable. Which likely has helped inspire formerly shell-shocked Republican donors to open their wallets and start giving.

As national editor Amy Walter recently wrote, AFP has gone big. If Republicans retake the Senate in November, AFP’s ad campaign will take on the kind of folkloric status of Priorities USA’s 2012 ads attacking Mitt Romney for his work at Bain Capital.

Cook Political Report Ratings


March 2010March 2014

Toss-upsLeansToss-upsLeans
Senate9375
House24351430
Governors18564

Thanks in large part to AFP, at the race-by-race level, more Senate races now look truly competitive. Back in October, the Cook Political Report rated nine Senate races as competitive, but only two as toss-ups. Today, five races lean either Democratic or Republican and seven are toss-ups.

With control of the Senate being the holy grail for the cycle, Senate races once again will be the primary stage for outside group advertising. Still, location matters. Half of the 12 currently competitive Senate races will be fought in top-50 media markets, but half won’t.

Four years ago in March 2010, the Report rated 24 House races as toss-ups and 35 as lean. As of late March 2014, there are just 14 toss-ups with 30 leans (counting MI-08, where GOP Rep. Mike Rogers announced his retirement on Friday). Whereas the number of toss-ups and leans on Election Day 2010 ultimately hit 46 and 42, House editor David Wasserman sees almost no possibility for that sort of explosion in today’s environment.

The field of competitive governors’ races also looks markedly smaller at this point than four years ago. In March 2010, the Report rated 18 races as toss-ups. Today, there are six. Less than one-third of the media markets hosting the 10 currently competitive races (six toss-ups plus four leans) are top-50 markets. The California governor’s race doesn’t look competitive at this point, much less have a Whitman anywhere in sight. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s race isn’t competitive, though the closer Connecticut race will prompt advertising in the New York market. Texas will be nationally watched and see some advertising by national groups, but isn’t yet competitive.

On the other hand, Florida promises to be massive. The Illinois race is competitive and self-funding GOP nominee Bruce Rauner has been advertising on Chicago TV since November. Likewise, Pennsylvania’s toss-up race will be fought in Philadelphia airspace, where self-funding candidate Tom Wolf (D) has been advertising since January.

The Icing

The bonus for local stations when it comes to early political ad spending is that advertisers across the board are paying higher rates today than they did four years ago, as Kantar Media Chief Research Officer Jon Swallen notes. Come fall, rates likely will look flat compared to what they were in fall 2010. But rates were in the post-recession tank in 2009 and still recovering in the first half of the 2010 election year. So as far as early advertising goes, broadcasters would say, bring it on. CMAG’s Brooke Schwartz contributed.

ON POINTS EXCLUSIVE: BIG DATA BRACKETOLOGY. The Analyst Institute, the hub of political experiments featured in Sasha Issenberg’s Victory Lab, today will announce Aaron Strauss as its new executive director. Strauss arrives at AI after serving as Targeting & Data Director at the DCCC with a brief stopover at Google. A leading practitioner of the left’s culture of collaboration, Strauss co-conducted the first text-messaging experiment, showing that text messages boost turnout; developed and shared algorithms and code with AI; and developed the first Google Maps-integrated turf-cutting software which he then licensed to another leading Democratic data hub, NGP/VAN, for $1.

Speaking of collaboration, the email about Strauss going out today to the left’s analytics community from AI board chair and AFL-CIO political director Mike Podhorzer closes: “As always, we want to hear from you. If there's a topic you'd like to better understand the best practices on, let us know. Same if you have an idea for an experiment that you want feedback on.” (Do emails like this circulate on the pro-free market GOP side? Which is better for encouraging integration of analytics: collaboration or competition?) Called the Analyst Group, the longstanding informal community—from which the Analyst Institute was born—started as a small group but now numbers hundreds of individuals and groups including the AFL-CIO, list curator Catalist, and analytics firms.