PQ Media

PQ Media says it has revised its 2020 estimate for political media spending to $9.33 billion — a 28.8% increase over 2016.

That’s also up from the $8.33 billion the company projected in August of last year. At that time, however, an array of crucial factors hadn’t yet entered the picture, including billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s big-spending entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination (he dropped more than $500 million); the arrival of COVID-19, which forced revisions to candidates’ media-buying strategies, especially due to the cancellation of planned rallies and fundraising events; a recession, which economists say began back in February; a surging U.S. unemployment rate, which now stands at 16.1%; and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which served as the catalyst for nationwide protests and has upended the complexion of November’s elections.

According to a blog post for the Radio Advertising Bureau written by PQ Media EVP and Director of Research Leo Kivijarv, Ph.D., audio advertising is expected to rise 29.3% over 2016 to $529 million, with digital platforms like podcasts spurring the gains.

“Historically, radio benefits from multiple contentious races in select states, as campaigns turn to audio when television inventory becomes tight,” Kivijarv writes. “Additionally, multicultural audiences over-index in audio consumption, thus many candidates will attempt to reach African-American and Hispanic voters using this medium, particularly in toss-up states.”

Broadcast television spending, which includes local and network, is forecast to reach $4.05 billion, eclipsing the $4 billion threshold for the first time.

Direct mail will reach $1.81 billion, driven by an increase in local politicians who opted for that medium instead of holding pandemic-era rallies. Digital media, including online and mobile, will comprise 13.2% of political media buying ($1.28 billion).

In terms of percentages, mobile media will see the biggest gains over 2016, up 329.4%, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones since the last presidential election cycle.

Two platforms are expected to post declines in 2020 compared with 2016: newspapers and experiential marketing.

Of course, the national spend won’t be evenly distributed across the U.S. The money, as it often is, will be concentrated where the races are most competitive.

In the U.S. Senate, there will be 35 seats in play in November. A total of 23 of those are currently held by Republicans, with Democrats defending a dozen. With 19 of those seats currently considered safe, most of the spending will occur in the remaining 16, particularly in places where Democrats have a viable opportunity to cut into the GOP’s existing 53-47 majority: Maine, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.

Democrats are also targeting five seats currently categorized as “lean Republican,” including Georgia (two seats), Iowa, Kansas and Montana.

Republicans, meanwhile, will be working hard to regain a seat in Alabama, which was won by a Democrat in a special election in late 2017. The GOP might also have to work harder than expected to hold their seats in Kentucky and South Carolina, which are currently held by two of the chamber’s most enduring figures — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, both of whom are facing tougher-than-expected races thus far. Both those elections are expected to break records.

Overall, PQ Media sees a 26.8% increase in spending on Senate races compared with 2016, reaching $2.41 billion.

In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, the magic number is 218 — the number of seats needed to gain control. Currently, Democrats have 233 seats to GOP’s 201 (with one Libertarian). As of right now, most analysts expect the Democrats to retain control.

“There are 26 House races that are considered ‘toss-up’ races,” Kivijarv writes. “Of these, 17 are currently Democratic districts, nine are Republican districts. Almost none are in the six toss-up presidential election states, with the exception of three in Pennsylvania, thus media buying might not be much of an issue for House candidates. If the list expands to include the presidential lean/likely states, more House candidates could find TV and radio inventory issues, including Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and Texas.”

House campaigns, it should be noted, are much different from those for president, Senate and governor since spending is restricted to a specific congressional district and not statewide.

In the race for the White House, the states where spending is expected to be robust are by now mostly familiar to American voters: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin.

All told, the presidential campaign is expected to generate $3.17 billion in spending, a 41.6% increase over 2016.