How Costly Does Political Ad Spending Get? Cost of Political Campaigns Advertising

 


 

To get your name seen and heard, it’s probably not surprising that you’ll have to spend some money to be successful in your endeavor. In 2024, new projections show that political ad revenue will reach $15.9 billion or up to $17 billion if you include direct mail costs. 

In the presidential election alone, candidates are expected to spend $2.7 billion on advertising. Those running for Senate are expected to spend $2.1 billion, $1.7 billion for the House, and $361 million on state governor races.

Between the 2016 election and 2020 election, one of the biggest changes was the increased financial investment in Super Tuesday states. This comes as a result of Bloomberg’s unorthodox strategy in 2020. This increased Super Tuesday spending to $247 million from $30 million spent in 2016.

As of now, we’ll have to wait to see what the final numbers for 2024 turn out to be but keep reading to learn more about the costs of political advertising and how it’s shifted over the years.

How Much is Spent Annually on Federal Elections Each Year? (2008-2022)


From year to year, spending varies, but it has been trending upward for some time. In 2022, political advertising costs amounted to $8.92 billion. Based on reports on the matter, here is list of cost for federal elections since 2008 below: 

2024: TBA

2022:

$8.9 Billion on Congressional Races

2020:

$5.9 Billion on Presidential Race

$8.7 Billion on Congressional Races

Total Election: $14.4 Billion (the largest thus far)

2018: 

$5.7 Billion on Congressional Races

2016:

$2.4 Billion on Presidential Race

$4.1 Billion on Congressional Races

Total Election: $6.5 Billion

2014:

$3.8 Billion on Congressional Races

2012:

$2.6 Billion on Presidential Race

$3.7 Billion on Congressional Races

Total Election: $6.2 Billion

2010:

$3.6 Billion on Congressional Races

2008:

$2.8 Billion on Presidential Race

$2.5 Billion on Congressional Races

Total Election: $5.2 Billion

The Most Successful Presidential Campaign Ads of All Time

Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” (2016)

  • Why was it popular?
    • In recent years, the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) has been one of the most polarizing and controversial political phrases. The phrase and movement was born from Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign. MAGA represents not only Trump’s political supporters but also the broader ideology they share. The term has become a cultural icon, appearing in various forms across arts, entertainment, and politics. Its origins began with no other than Ronald Reagan from words delivered during the 1980 campaign. 
  • What were the results?
    • He won. Donald Trump gained approximately 46.1% of the popular vote, and won the 2016 presidential election.

 

 

Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” Web Ad (2008)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • Obama’s “Yes We Can” ad was unconventional, as it was only available online. The ad was produced by Will.i.am. of The Black Eyed Peas and Bob Dylan’s Son, Jesse Dylan. The ad showed Obama’s New Hampshire primary concession speech put to music and featured over 30 celebrity performers singing his words from that day. The ad was first posted on YouTube, then went viral with only 26 million views in only a few days. The virality of the ad led to an online fundraising frenzy, adding momentum to Obama’s presidential campaign.
  • What were the results? 
    • In 2008, Obama won the election of Republican candidate John McCain with 68% of the electoral vote, making him the first black president in U.S. history.

Bill Clinton’s “Man From Hope” (1992)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • This ad was an edited down version of a longer biographical film shown at the 1992 Democratic Convention, which emphasized Clinton’s small town roots, strong work ethic, wisdom, and sense of humanity. This commercial is still known as one of the most captivating biographical ads of all time.
  • What were the results? 
    • Clinton won the election over Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush with 69% of the electoral vote.

George H.W. Bush’s “Revolving Door & “Willie Horton” (1988)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • This ad attacked a program supported by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis during his time as governor of Massachusetts. This program allowed prisoners to be released on weekend furloughs. This ad focused on the case of Willie Horton, who sexually assaulted a woman in 1987 during his weekend furlough through this program. This black-and-white ad successfully made a dent in Dukakis’ approval and ability to lead and protect. This resulted in a major blow to his campaign.
  • What were the results? 
    • Bush defeated Dukakis with 80% of the electoral vote.

Ronald Reagan’s “Morning In America” (1984)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • In 1984, Ronald Reagan ran a series of campaign ads known as “Morning in America.” The ads effectively highlighted scenes of productivity and suburban life to suggest Reagan has restored American optimism, revived the economy, and solved unemployment to bring back the ideal “American life,” following President Carter’s term in office.
  • What were the results? 
    • These ads lead to Reagan defeating Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, taking 98% of the electoral vote for his win.

Richard Nixon’s “McGovern Defense” (1972)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • This ad ran during Nixon’s re-election campaign against Democratic candidate George McGovern. With the Vietnam War still going on, Nixon’s angle was to depict the Democrats’ national defense efforts as weak. This ad was specifically sponsored by the “Democrats for Nixon” group.
  • What were the results? 
    • Nixon won the election with 97% of the electoral vote.

Hubert H. Humphrey’s “Laughter” (1968)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • Even though Hubert H. Humphrey ultimately lost the election to Richard Nixon, this ad still made an impact, as it portrayed Nixon’s running mate, Spiro Agnew, as inexperienced and laughable. This ad was made by Tony Schwartz who was also responsible for Johnson’s “Daisy” ad.
  • What were the results? 
    • Nixon defeated Humphrey, with nearly 56 percent of the electoral vote.

 

Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Daisy Girl” (1964)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • During Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 re-election campaign, he ran one of the most famous campaign ads of all time. The ad ran once during an NBC broadcast of Monday Night at the Movies on September 7th of  that year. This election occurred during the Cold War, and this ad painted Republican candidate Barry Goldwater as a terrifying right-wing extremist who could put the world on the brink of disaster.
  • What were the results? 
    • Johnson became President with 90% of the electoral vote.

John F. Kennedy’s “Kennedy For Me” (1960)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • John F. Kennedy was the youngest elected candidate in U.S. history at age 43 and used this ad to turn his youth into an asset. He attacked opponent Richard Nixon’s age and experience by urging voters to elect someone “old enough to know and young enough to do.”
  • What were the results? 
    • Kennedy won the election with 56% of the electoral vote.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Ike for President” (1952)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • While not as profound as the others, this quaint commercial helped Eisenhower defeat Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.
  • What were the results?
    • Eisenhower became the first Republican to win the presidential election in 20 years with 83% of the electoral vote.

Honorable Mentions:

Hillary Clinton’s “It’s 3:00 am” Ad (2008)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • The 2008 election was a historic race, with one democratic candidate aiming to be the first female president and the other looking to be the first African American president. Hillary Clinton released an ad challenging Obama’s ability to deliver national security. This ad became known as the “3:00 a.m.” ad as it asked voters to think about who they want answering the commander-in-chief’s emergency phone at 3:00 in the morning. This ad displayed similar elements of Johnson’s “Daisy” ad from 1964. 
  • What were the results? 
    • While Hillary did not win the presidential race, this ad is one of the most memorable in campaign commercial history.

Democratic candidate Mike Gravel’s “Rock” Ad (2008)

  • Why was it popular? 
    • Former Alaska senator and 2008 Democratic candidate Mike Gravel created an ad that appeared low-budget with no dialogue, showing Gravel staring into the camera, turning away, walking to the side of a lake, and throwing a rock in the water – and nothing more. The ad did not make Gravel successful in his presidential campaign, but it did go viral. It’s known as one of the strangest ads in political history.
  • What were the results? 
    • Mike Gravel did not win but his strange ad did leave a mark.

 

Republican candidate, Herman Cain’s “Smoking Man” Video

  • Why was it popular? 
    • During the 2011 Republican primary, candidate Herman Cain released a video originally intended to only be an email to supporters. This video called “Smoking Man” showed Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, giving a pep talk to viewers while smoking a cigarette. The video had a rebellious air to it, which complemented Cain at the time. This was a precursor to today’s “anti-establishment” mood toward politics and the lost-cost fast nature of the media.
  • What were the results? 
    • The authenticity of this ad became a fan favorite despite Cain dropping out of the race.

FAQ


When do presidential campaigns start for 2024?The presidential election cycle can begin as soon as two years before the general election. In 2024, election day is November 5, so many candidates have been campaigning since late 2022.

When did the 2024 primaries start?The primaries begin January 15, 2024.

What was the filing deadline to run for president in 2024?The filing deadlines vary by state, with most deadlines happening between November 2023 and February 2024.

How is the president elected if the electoral vote ends in a tie or no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes?There is a contingency plan written into the Constitution laying out what to do if an election ends in a tie. Article II, Section 1, states: “[I]f there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by Ballot one of them for President.”

Has the race for the U.S. President ever been in a tie?In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes, white led to a very divided House of Representatives to choose the winner. This is the first and only Electoral College tie so far in U.S. history and initiated the process of including a constitutional amendment on the matter. 

Which presidential campaign was the first to use television advertising?The Eisenhower campaign was the first to run ads by an American presidential candidate. This ad campaign was titled, “Eisenhower Answer America.” 

Who was the first president to use broadcast media?On December 6, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge was the first president to address the American people via broadcast radio.

Which president passed the act that created public broadcasting?President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this act into law on November 7, 1967. 

What do politicians spend campaign money on?Campaign-related expenses, or disbursements related to the campaign, can include payments for staff salaries, rent, advertising, travel, phones, office supplies, and more. Here is a breakdown from the FEC on campaign spending:

What are non-campaign expenses?A non-campaign expense is when campaign funds are used for certain purposes not related to the campaign for federal office. Using campaign funds for personal use is strictly prohibited. 

What are political commercials called?In politics, political commercials are referred to as campaign ads or political ads. Political ads are created by political consultants and campaign staff to reach voters and hopefully positively influence their vote.

What is campaign disbursement?The Federal Election Campaign Act outlines certain restrictions on how candidates can use campaign funds. A “disbursement” is a broad term that encompasses campaign expenditures and other kinds of payments related to the campaign. An expenditure includes purchases, payments, distributions, loans, advances, deposits, gifts, or anything of value that can influence an election. All disbursements are reportable.

Why do supporters give money to campaigns?Money plays a major role in politics, and the parties need access to funds in order to successfully run a campaign and compete effectively. Fundraising is an important component in politics as it allows voters to support candidates whose values and stances they stand with and ultimately help them along in their campaign journey.

Where do candidates get the money to run campaigns?Qualified presidential candidates can receive money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, a fund on the U.S. Treasury books. The Federal Election Commission determines which candidates are eligible to receive funds and administers the public funding program. In addition, a campaign may see money from donors through fundraising efforts.

What is the difference between a fund and a campaign?A campaign is what brings in the money from donors and supporters. A fund is where that money goes and acts as a bucket for the donations.

How many consecutive years do you have to live in the US to become president?A presidential candidate must be a natural born citizen of the United States, a resident for 14 years, and 35 years of age or older. These legal requirements have not changed since the year Washington became president.

Can a president run for a third term?No. U.S. Presidents are limited to two terms in office.

Can a president run for a third term after skipping a term?The 22nd Amendment states that anyone who has been elected president twice is prohibited from being elected again. 

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