Over 2 Million Political Ads Aired This Cycle, up 9% over 2012

university’s website.An estimated $1.56 billion has been spent so far in the 2015-2016 election cycle on political advertising (Table 1), according to a new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. That money has purchased just over 2 million ad airings on local broadcast television since January 1, 2015, which is an increase of 9 percent over the 1.87 million total airings at this point in 2012.

About a third of that total ($517 million) was spent on nearly 610,000 ad airings in the presidential race, while spending on campaigns for U.S. Senate came to $247 million for over 280,000 airings. Spending on races for governor and U.S. House lag behind, clocking in at a little over $80 million apiece. Just over $34 million has been spent on ballot measures so far.

Table 1: Ad Spending and Airings

Est. Cost 
(in Millions)
Figures are from January 1, 2015 to August 18, 2016. Numbers include broadcast television
(national network and national cable are included in presidential totals).
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
President 517 609,893
Governor 86 233,566
US House 83 143,423
US Senate 247 280,416
Federal and Governor Total 934 1,267,298
Ballot Measures 34 58,904
Mayor 0.05 153
Attorney General 3 6,836
State Senate 27 58,994
Lt. Governor 2 4,510
Judicial 21 50,026
State Rep. 12 23,310
Other 45 109,055
Grand Total 1,560 2,032,307


Despite an overall increase in ad airings in 2016, advertising activity in federal races is down from 2012 levels (1.27 million in 2016 compared to 1.39 million in 2012). As shown in Table 2, presidential airings in 2016 are down by 14 percent compared to 2012 cycle-to-date as are U.S. House airings. 2016 senatorial airings are down 32 percent compared to 2014 races, but up by nearly 12 percent over 2010 in which the same seats were being contested six years ago. Gubernatorial airings, in stark contrast, are considerably higher in 2016 than they were in 2012 (233,500 versus 167,000 four year earlier), an increase of 40 percent.

More information and charts are available at the university’s website.

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