Political Dollars

It’s not just votes that were counted this week after Election Day, so were the dollars. And the race was not close – Virginia had the biggest political ad spending haul of any state in 2021. AdImpact says its preliminary tally of the general election shows $66.31 million was spent during the governor’s race that saw Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democratic Terry McAuliffe. Since late-August, both campaigns have spent at least $1 million on advertisements each week according to the ad-tracking firm.

Helping grow the totals was the range of players that were spending. In addition to the McAuliffe and Youngkin campaigns, AdImpact counted 32 issue groups placing advertisements during the general election.

The analysis shows the McAuliffe campaign spent an estimated $31 million or $2.7 million more than the Youngkin campaign’s $28.3 million. The top two spending issue groups, Restoration PAC – which dropped $1.45 million – and Free to Learn – which spent $1.02 million – both backed Youngkin. But AdImpact says McAuliffe also benefited from outside groups, including large coordinated buys with the Democratic Governors Association which spent $940,000, and the American Federation of Teachers, which spent $761,000. “Of the top ten spending advertisers during the general, seven supported McAuliffe,” the firm notes in its campaign wrap-up.

The analysis also shows where the money was spent. It shows the Washington, DC market had the most ad buys with more than $43 million spent by the two candidates combined.

Of course the general election is just a slice of the political season. AdImpact calculates when the primary season is added to the tally, a total of $80.21 million was spent on the race to lead Virginia. It says that during the entirety of the race, the McAuliffe campaign spent $39.94 million on advertising while the Youngkin campaign spent $30.91 million.

New Jersey Race Hit Nearly $30 Million

The other big political battle this week was in New Jersey where incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy narrowly won a new term as Governor by beating Republican State Rep. Jack Ciattarelli. Despite the results that showed a very competitive race, solid blue New Jersey resulted in less ad spending than in Virginia.

In the closing days of the campaign, AdImpact estimated $29.6 million had been spent on the race. That included $16.6 million that was spent on ads supporting Murphy, with $12.9 million spent on ads promoting Ciattarelli.

“Spending saw a small increase around the time of the primary election, then dropped, only to see a large increase, specifically in support of the Democratic candidate, around September,” says AdImpact’s review. In the final three weeks before the election, it says Ciattarelli spent $3.2 million and Murphy spent $4.3 million.

AdImpact says television got most of the money in New Jersey’s race with cable TV pocketing the most – $15.3 million versus $12.1 million for broadcast TV. Other media received much smaller buys. It estimates digital ad spending totaled $1.5 million while radio got about $600,000. Of note: Republican advertisers focused more on cable TV spending, whereas democratic advertisers favored broadcast TV spending. There was also greater spending from candidate advertisers, and less spending from issue group advertisers in 2021.

Hint Of Media Payday To Come

With stations in both Washington and Richmond, VA, Urban One was well-positioned to benefit from the Virginia race. The company reported Thursday it had $711,000 in political revenue during the third quarter and $2 million year-to-date companywide during what is a normally a quiet year for the political category.

“Based on what we just saw down in Virginia, we think it's that's going to bode well for next year's political revenues for us,” CEO Alfred Liggins said. He told analysts he expects his company’s 2022 political ad revenue to be “at the same level or slightly better” than during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Election Day results have boosted the GOP’s spirits that they can take back control of Congress and that could help make 2022’s ad budgets even bigger than previously thought. Next year’s election will feature 34 U.S. Senate races and every U.S. House seat. There will also be 36 gubernatorial contests.

In a forecast released in July, AdImpact predicted that even without a Presidential election, ad spending totals for the 2022 election cycle will approach $9 billion. That includes $220 million forecast for radio – or double what the radio industry got during the prior midterm cycle in 2018. AdImpact says the figure may seem high, but it is based on historical data that has shown big jumps in spending during each of the past several election cycles.