08.08.22 3 min

Political ad spend is increasing – here’s why

Digital political spending has grown 4.6 times since 2018. Experts say they won’t be surprised if campaigns raise $13 billion in 2022. Let's break down some of the reasons why.

Data Axle Staff


Gone are the days everyone tuned into the same news channel every night. Now, voters have more options and sources than ever before. As a result, political ad spending is way, way up. The 2019-2020 cycle was unusual in many ways, including the sheer amount of money involved: spending reached $8.5 billion across TV, radio, and digital media.1 Digital political spending has grown 4.6 times since 2018.2 Experts say they won’t be surprised if campaigns raise $13 billion in 2022.3

Eighty percent of that money in 2019-2020 went to broadcast and cable TV,4 but digital campaign spend is up, too, as more and more households cut the cord. In fact, the average TV consumer in 2021 had five subscription streaming services. So campaigns are shifting more and more resources towards digital advertising. Four years ago, 2-3% of all political ad spending was for digital ads. Today that budget share has increased to 18%.5

Let’s break down some reasons political spending is up:

1. Races are closer than ever

Your voters might see messaging that’s slightly off in the primaries and give their vote to another candidate–just like that. Increasing your candidate’s visibility takes more money, more time, and better strategies, partly just to compete for airtime and attention. In the 2019-2020 election cycle, we saw 9.3 million of TV ads in more than 4300 federal, state and local elections.6

In the United States, political campaigns use data on more than 200 million voting-age Americans to inform their strategies and tactics.7 The money you spend on your campaign is more and more efficient at communicating with the exact voter segment you want to speak to. That means that if you can get your strategy right, you’ll be spending more money to gain the trust, loyalty and passion of your voters.

But it also means that you’re competing not just against other personalized political ads, but non-political ads as well. University of Washington researchers were curious about the political ads people saw during the 2020 presidential election. The team looked at more than 1 million ads from almost 750 news sites between September 2020 and January 2021. Of those ads, almost 56,000 had political content.8 Is your ad memorable? Surprising? Engaging?

2. A trend towards personalized messaging means more messaging, more channels, and more money

They want highly personalized messaging that resonates with their specific priorities, and they expect consistent messaging across all the channels they use. That means there are more places to spend your money than ever before.

Because of the pandemic, Americans increased their digital screen time dramatically. From 2018 to 2020, there was a 24% growth in digital screen time, making it a necessity for political campaigns to shift spend to channels where voters were spending their time.9 The roughly $700-800 million in digital ad spend in the 2017-2018 election cycle became $1.6 billion in this one.10 Our estimate for the midterm season sits at $7.8 billion for local broadcast, local cable/satellite, radio, digital and OTT.11

Now, with most of the country out of lockdown, where should you focus your ads? In the last election, 75% of Facebook spending was aimed at soliciting funds through campaign contributions or merchandise purchasing. A far smaller percentage was aimed at voter persuasion.12

So if you’re a small to midsize campaign, you may have an opportunity to make a difference and avoid the big million dollar spends with smart segmentation. Get your point across to the people who want to hear it and who are asking for that information. Utilizing the 300 identifying attributes for each voter that Data Axle offers, you can fine tune your strategy to cut through the noise. If you’re aiming to connect to each voter on a personal level and get them to the polls, social media with smart segmentation is the way to do it.

3. There are more voters to reach than ever before

Americans voted in record numbers in last year’s presidential election, casting nearly 158.4 million ballots.13 Do you remember how it used to be difficult to get young people invested in politics? Those days are also over. Gen Z is extremely politically minded, and Millennials aren’t far behind. We estimate that 50% of young people, ages 18-29, voted in the 2020 presidential election, a remarkable 11-point increase from 2016 (39%).14 That means that your political spend is more likely to reach voters who are heavily invested and more likely to vote, donate, and use their online platforms to lead small activist groups.

Midterms are usually characterized by lower turnout and an older electorate, but don’t count out younger voters this time; if anything, the 2020 election has shown us that a motivated electorate can be any age, and digital ad spend is going up to meet these younger voters where they are.

Don’t forget, too, that Gen Z really loves to receive items in the mail and millennials love to test and try out new ways of doing things, so if you’re looking to mix things up a little, you could start there.

You can get creative if you can back it up with good data

As our society shifts to new digital channels, new expectations of content, and a new interest in civic engagement, political spending will continue to go up. Eventually, of course, campaigns will figure out the most cost effective ways to connect with voters in the new digital landscape, but until then your campaign may benefit from a little experimentation.

Beef up your omnichannel strategy with new ways to approach digital ads, innovative direct mail ideas, and highly personalized messaging. Invest wisely into your political advertising strategy.

Learn how we help: Contact Us.

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhomonoff/2020/12/08/2020-political-ad-spending-exploded-did-it-work/?sh=5df38c683ce0
2 https://www.techforcampaigns.org/impact/2020-political-digital-advertising-report
3 https://www.kantar.com/north-america/inspiration/advertising-media/political-ad-spending-for-2022-midterm-elections-to-top-7-billion-dollars
4 Forbes
5 Forbes
6 Forbes
7 https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/DATA-VISUAL/yxmvjjgojvr/
8 https://www.washington.edu/news/2021/11/08/political-ads-2020-presidential-election-collected-personal-information-spread-misleading-information/
9 https://www.techforcampaigns.org/impact/2020-political-digital-advertising-report
10 Forbes
11 https://www.kantar.com/north-america/inspiration/advertising-media/political-ad-spending-for-2022-midterm-elections-to-top-7-billion-dollars
12 https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhomonoff/2020/12/08/2020-political-ad-spending-exploded-did-it-work/?sh=5df38c683ce0
13 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/28/turnout-soared-in-2020-as-nearly-two-thirds-of-eligible-u-s-voters-cast-ballots-for-president/
14 https://circle.tufts.edu/understanding-youth-civic-engagement