Follow the Money

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 4, 2016 — The Wesleyan Media Project released their campaign advertising study for the 2016 election cycle and, focusing on their Senate data that Kantar Media/CMAG compiled, the information gives us strong clues as to which races are the most important to each party. The report also provides clues as to which media campaigns and strategies are working and those that are lacking.

The study tracked ads run in 20 states featuring Senate general election campaigns, from a high of 18,265 ads aired (Pennsylvania) to a low of 18 (Kansas). The tested period spanned from Aug. 19 to Sept. 15. In the 20 states, an aggregate of 104,522 ads aired in the various markets. Those backing Republican candidates or opposing Democratic contenders accounted for approximately 53 percent of the total study period buy.

Though Pennsylvanians have seen the greatest number of Senate ads, the most money spent during the period was in New Hampshire ($16.9 million). This is because the overwhelming number of ads purchased was in the expensive Boston media market.

More media spots supporting the Republican Senate nominee or opposing the Democrat occurred (in the order of the biggest discrepancy between Republican oriented television spending and Democratic) in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Arkansas, Alaska, and Kansas.

A preponderance of commercials supporting the Democratic Senate nominee or opposing the Republican candidate was detected in the following states, again in the order of greatest discrepancy vis-à-vis their Republican counterparts: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Kentucky, Illinois, and Vermont.

Through the period, the Republican candidates and media strategists obviously believed that their most important races were in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina. In three of these states: Ohio, Florida, and Arizona, the campaign and outside organization media efforts have better positioned the GOP nominee. Currently, senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and John McCain (R-AZ) have put enough distance between themselves and their respective opponents that the Democrats appear to be reducing their spending and adding to other opportunities. The spending has clearly helped Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) develop a discernible advantage.

The emphasis in Indiana has helped narrow the deficit between Rep. Todd Young (R-Bloomington) and former Sen. Evan Bayh (D), but the former still trails by at least a handful of percentage points. The spending advantage so far in Missouri and North Carolina has not resulted in much change. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) still leads Democrat Jason Kander by a small margin, while Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and his opponent, former state Rep. Deborah Ross (D), remain deadlocked just as they were when the tested advertising period began.

The Democrats’ efforts in Pennsylvania have helped cause that race to tighten into a pure toss-up. Their Wisconsin advantage has continued to cement former Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D) lead over Sen. Ron Johnson (R) to the point that they are beginning to move some of their media budget to other campaigns. The Illinois race continues to find Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) leading Sen. Mark Kirk (R), but Democratic advertising has largely been unchecked. Now, Republicans appear to be beginning their own media drive supporting their endangered incumbent.

The Democratic spending advantage in New Hampshire and Nevada has so far not resulted in their candidate changing the race. The contest between Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) remains a toss-up as it has for the better part of two years, while Democratic former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto continues to trail Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) by a small margin.

Despite talk from both camps about how competitive they are in certain states, candidate and party spending do not suggest the particular races are moving. This leads us to conclude that senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) will continue to cruise toward re-election.

No serious competition is developing for senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Boozman (R-AR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

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