61% Increase in Volume of Negative Ads

Record-Breaking Number of Ads;
More Democratic Dark Money

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(MIDDLETOWN, CT) October 30, 2018 – As we reach the final week of the 2018 midterm election, an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project finds that television advertising in federal races is setting new records in volume—and in the volume of negative ads, thanks in part to the large number of competitive races across the country. While the proportion of negative advertising in the post-Labor Day general election period (Sept. 4–Oct. 25) is not actually record-breaking, this election season feels exceptionally negative to many viewers because the sheer number of negative ads on the air is up by 61 percent over the 2014 midterms.

As Figure 1 shows, 54 percent of the ads aired in the 2010 midterm campaign were purely negative, with another 22 percent being contrast ads (that mention both the favored and targeted candidate). Thus, 76 percent of ads featured an attack. In 2018, 48 percent of the ads aired were purely negative, with another 21 percent making contrasts between candidates. Thus, 69 percent of ads contained an attack. However, no other general election period over the past decade has seen anywhere near the total number of negative (pure attack or attack plus contrast) spots on air. Nearly 569,000 pure attack ads have aired since Labor Day, crushing the 2010 record of nearly 450,000.

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“With control of Congress up for grabs and more competitive races, we generally expect campaign activity and negativity to increase,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, “but the amount of negative ads – and sheer amount of advertising on television more generally in 2018 – is really stunning.”

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Figure 1: Volume and Proportion of Negativity in Federal Advertising, 2008-2018



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Huge Increase in Advertising Volume over 2014

Table 1 takes a look at cycle-to-date ad totals, since January 1, 2017 (and January 1, 2013, for the previous midterm comparison). Over 3.6 million ads have aired in congressional and gubernatorial campaigns to date, an increase of 59 percent over 2014. This includes a 109 percent increase in House ads and a 66 percent increase in races for governor. The increase in House races is notable because the chamber is considered up for grabs—with most forecasting models giving a strong probability that Democrats take control—while in 2014 the GOP majority was considered much more secure.

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Table 1: Ad Volumes, Cycle-to-Date

2014CandidatePartyGroupCoordinatedTotal% Inc
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1, 2017 and
October 25, 2018 and between January 1, 2013 and October 25, 2014.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
House303,07294,74085,64916,755500,216
Senate462,75172,848338,16226,449900,210
Governor553,136138,484194,1876,729892,536
Total1,318,959306,072617,99849,9332,292,962
2018
House680,87298,675223,90941,6781,045,134108.9%
Senate633,60654,063412,32426,1121,126,10525.1%
Governor1,101,32460,324249,17373,5531,484,37466.3%
Total2,415,802213,062885,406141,3433,655,61359.4%
% Inc83.2%-30.4%43.3%183.1%

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Figure 2 shows how different parts of the country have been disproportionately hit by this increase in advertising from 2014 to 2018. For instance, the number of federal and gubernatorial ad airings in the Denver media market (the most targeted market in 2014 with just over 50,000 airings that cycle) actually went down (though it has still seen nearly 40,000 airings this cycle), while advertising in many other markets throughout the country increased.

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Figure 2: Federal and Gubernatorial Ad Volumes, 2014 and 2018



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Orlando and Las Vegas See Over 70,000 Airings

Orlando, Florida, has seen 73,197 airings in federal and gubernatorial races so far this cycle with Las Vegas, Nevada, taking a close second at 72,912 airings. The Tampa and Chicago markets have both seen well over 60,000 airings, and another five (Atlanta, Phoenix, Kansas City, Tucson and Miami) all have over 50,000 airings. Indianapolis, which had a mere 6 ads in 2014, has seen nearly 49,000 airings.

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Table 2: Top 50 Media Markets, Cycle-to-Date (1/1/17 to 10/25/18)

Media MarketTotal
Airings
Gov
Airings
Senate
Airings
House
Airings
Numbers include congressional and gubernatorial ads aired on broadcast television
between January 1, 2017 and October 25, 2018 and between January 1, 2013 and October 25, 2014.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Orlando, FL73,19739,36328,3615,473
Las Vegas, NV72,91224,18536,31312,414
Tampa, FL68,96037,71725,2086,035
Chicago, IL62,38249,8081,01211,562
Atlanta, GA59,00222,264-36,738
Phoenix, AZ56,24011,59336,0828,565
Kansas City, MO54,3455,93823,29825,109
Tucson, AZ53,3938,04527,01018,338
Miami, FL51,20326,06611,93413,203
Indianapolis, IN48,822-43,2995,523
West Palm Beach, FL48,62225,47114,4588,693
Reno, NV48,35419,62127,759974
Detroit, MI46,77824,2795,77516,724
Minneapolis, MN44,6229,9524,88229,788
Knoxville, TN44,34822,30519,1612,882
St Louis, MO43,83813,49520,7709,573
Norfolk, VA42,63521,6583,26817,709
Milwaukee, WI42,61717,84414,28510,488
Albuquerque, NM42,02817,0392,42822,561
Jacksonville, FL41,49225,98015,43478
Philadelphia, PA40,94410,2908,93121,723
Billings, MT40,7271,23924,48215,006
Grand Rapids, MI40,45225,9066,6047,942
Memphis, TN40,37319,65317,8982,822
Nashville, TN40,18219,49818,0982,586
Denver, CO39,80625,525-14,281
Missoula, MT39,026-24,34014,686
Green Bay, WI38,51016,09416,0256,391
Butte, MT38,184-23,23814,946
Washington DC37,88720,4402,71714,730
Great Falls, MT36,645-20,43916,206
Charleston, WV35,21714528,8286,244
Mobile, AL35,20714,03520,846326
Chattanooga, TN34,68119,76614,89619
Champaign, IL33,36924,629-8,740
Fargo, ND32,78039229,6742,714
Paducah, KY32,44920,7337,5524,164
Columbus, OH31,95514,0312,99714,927
South Bend, IN31,616-21,53610,080
Richmond, VA31,16116,7832,45011,928
Cedar Rapids, IA30,94115,273-15,668
Des Moines, IA30,33516,756-13,579
Cincinnati, OH30,13114,1942,72713,210
Los Angeles, CA29,21015,9441,75311,513
Ft. Myers, FL28,99312,89913,2662,828
Bluefield-Beckley, WV28,8501,60922,9694,272
Tri-Cities, TN28,61118,0499,979583
Portland, OR28,58821,834-6,754
New York, NY28,12312,29511,2054,623
San Diego, CA27,7708,1031,01918,648

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Tables 3-5 show the top races for congress and governor in the full cycle period. In both the primary and general election period, the gubernatorial election in Florida has featured nearly 200,000 ad spots, costing over $130 million. Voters in Illinois have seen nearly $100 million in spending for almost 180,000 ad spots.

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Table 3: Top Gubernatorial Races Cycle-to-Date (1/1/17 to 10/25/18)

StateAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Dem
Group
GOP
Group
Dem
Cand
GOP
Cand
Dem/Pty
Coord
GOP/Pty
Coord
Dem
Adv
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1, 2017 and October 25, 2018.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
FL196,050133.06,29928,12888,97323,83923,02025,79140,534
IL179,25595.03,2028,37997,66367,857556025,185
TN99,37228.14843,53318,21277,14300-61,980
MI90,76542.917,52615,49936,62916,69504,41617,545
VA87,84133.82,6093,89146,70234,6300910,781
OH74,41736.29,4521,78514,67138,8283829,299-25,407
GA70,62534.46,7363,93011,74723,6829,73714,793-14,185
WI61,90325.910,98013,1419,91023,22704,622-20,100
CA54,67853.922,393031,1381,1470052,384
IA52,60012.940840833,43518,3490015,086
CO46,67627.29,7504,19822,8255,60704,29618,474
OR44,10211.33,0105,53416,36919,18900-5,344
NV43,80632.911,4802,52216,8617,69205,25112,876
PA40,67819.31,659018,58520,43400-190
SC35,47110.2547,7263,75223,0040935-27,859
ID30,1025.602,5297,63119,94200-14,840
OK27,3269.41,7013,0074,20317,24401,171-15,518
KS24,3997.03,5722,7193,0648,49703,687-8,267
ME21,8147.14,25907,5423,72503,6324,444
AZ21,01613.732903,0042,461615,216-14,338
CT20,09212.863,4878,0368,37100-3,816
AL20,0524.5001,13618,91600-17,780
SD18,8302.802556,35412,22100-6,122
NM18,4806.73,202010,5284,45502958,980
MN13,9359.65,0041,6124,5272,50428805,703
RI12,1054.63,0329286,7901,255007,639
NY12,04112.97318,4071203,398011,757
MD11,47710.577503,8935,07901,730-2,141
TX9,3305.2002549,07600-8,822
MA9,0386.402,43096,4701290-8,762
NJ8,61611.354404,2212,63301,218914
WY6,8750.90006,87500-6,875
NE5,7070.50085,69900-5,691
HI4,8541.51,02803,8260004,854
AR4,3071.20801924,03500-3,923
AK4,1430.802,90577713100-2,259
VT8850.20592029300-885
NH6940.30056612800438

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In the battle for the Senate, voters in Florida have seen another 125,000 ads costing almost $100 million. That brings the total in Florida for the two statewide races to nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars. Indiana has featured the most ads for Senate—133,000 airings. Races in Montana and Missouri have each featured over 100,000 airings.

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Table 4: Top U.S. Senate Races Cycle-to-Date (1/1/17 to 10/25/18)

StateAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Dem
Group
GOP
Group
Dem
Cand
Rep
Cand
Dem/Pty
Coord
Rep/Pty
Coord
Dem
Adv
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1, 2017 and October 25, 2018.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
IN132,78856.827,23128,82120,58343,6008,2454,302-20,664
FL124,86896.026,09118,32216,90456,7004,5602,291-29,758
MT113,89827.724,02616,35243,13115,9305,8428,61232,105
MO104,55559.431,89433,60925,4186,16607,46810,069
WV85,88228.223,11817,04114,03826,0271,1644,418-9,166
TN80,35631.316,80614,11032,64712,99403,14019,209
AZ65,38541.115,2299,10920,8148,0616,9145,22120,566
NV64,40450.621,2469,08718,6889,3094,1311,86723,802
AL59,89714.03,56514,36223,21517,41101,344-6,337
WI55,66523.35,45722,64922,5415,01002337
ND53,42917.612,6449,76213,4228,4723,0405,9884,884
TX40,01828.3113,64921,11215,246002,228
MI20,4729.34403109,71010,01200-172
OH19,1689.770340016,4551,6040015,154
NJ18,61518.41,0536371,50815,41700-13,493
VA15,9484.1020415,2225220014,496
MS14,2363.602,2142,9877,40901,626-8,262
MN10,5765.40398,8151,431007,345
CA10,5485.051010,49700010,548
PA10,1705.401758,2191,776006,268
NE4,9281.152701,8082,59300-258
NM3,7731.9003,7650003,765
WA2,8910.8002,408483001,925
RI2,6461.3001,900746001,154
UT2,4860.8011362,43400-2,409
MD2,4321.500921000921
MA2,0641.30002,06400-2,064
CT1,6540.7001,6540001,654
ME1,4550.303802712200-475
HI7840.200784000784
VT770.020007700-77
NY370.003003700037

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Twenty-nine House races have seen at least 10,000 spots on television in the full cycle, including in Montana’s at-large district, where nearly 70,000 ads have aired during the 2017 special election campaign and the 2018 primaries and general election.

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Table 5: Top U.S. House Races Cycle-to-Date (1/1/17 to 10/25/18)

RaceAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Dem
Group
GOP
Group
Dem
Cand
GOP
Cand
Dem/Pty
Coord
GOP/Pty
Coord
Dem
Adv
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1, 2017 and October 25, 2018.
The table is limited to races with at least 500 airings during the period.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
MT-0169,4926.65524,73432,75127,0298893,537-1,108
NY-2235,93410.14,5018,07911,7584,0883,4064,1023,396
GA-0635,49531.31,3144,62418,7755,0022,8472,93310,377
ME-0230,9849.35,6486,16410,5606,7381,0068683,444
KY-0623,7069.11,7125,1109,4126,1911,021260584
NY-1922,1185.41,5691,97513,1331,6321,2252,5849,736
AZ-0218,0994.63,2942748,7482,3782,3071,09810,599
NM-0217,8935.21,6827006,7812,3584,4301,9427,893
VA-0217,4994.93,73405,4722,1123,3672,4488,013
IA-0317,0906.62,7302,4897,6172,2721,8201627,244
CA-2116,8513.24953,8163,6274,3414,5720537
OH-1216,09810.8605,4084,6573,0268302,117-5,004
KS-0215,8875.86145,7212,5491,1465,6072501,653
KS-0315,6777.61,9904,2365,5562,4941,40102,217
CA-4915,6227.02,27893510,5771491,56611713,220
TX-2315,4108.61,9032,5665,2842,9031,4651,2891,894
IA-0114,8863.54,5331,4776,1761,9376441197,820
CA-1014,12210.89852,5876,6591,7101,3478343,860
WA-0514,0313.04836615,9946,89300-1,077
CO-0613,81811.53,3072,7813,2121,0992,1691,2503,558
WA-0813,80611.91,7981,9815,6021,1932,0761,1565,146
NY-2413,1712.72,9641,7484,0763,5384084371,725
OH-0113,0125.71,4393,9683,9791,7091,5923251,008
MN-0312,82610.32,5291,6294,2362,0181722,2421,048
MI-0812,01210.52,9673685,2999371,0251,4166,570
VA-0711,9134.61,6392,1576,8811,236005,127
NC-0911,5614.61,6869676,5771,1941,13707,239
IL-1310,8234.31,0308235,6522,0871,22744,995
TX-0710,67610.21,1771,6364,0381,0691,4081,3482,570
MN-089,9377.21484,5892,9245551,291430-1,211
VA-109,69011.93852423,3801,1012,9481,6343,736
FL-269,65911.92,1839226739073,6001,3743,253
WV-039,3472.14068883,6193,2001,23401,171
NM-019,3442.63,62905,7150009,344
IL-129,3295.15802,5984,3891,15760501,819
PA-089,2671.7003,4705,2490548-2,327
PA-018,96910.24641,7804,9263321131,3542,037
FL-188,9054.31,2599314,2401,7474992293,091
PA-188,7339.54722,4313,0537572181,802-1,247
WI-068,5611.54907,3741,138006,285
MI-068,3943.12,1934392,9282,64419002,228
IN-028,3401.6004,9553,3572801,626
NC-138,3172.37256384,9831,85443743,185
CA-228,3132.017905,6842,450003,413
UT-048,0542.73791,1524,1611,92404381,026
NE-027,9692.883,6131,5461,355738709-3,385
TX-317,5232.4006,781742006,039
WI-017,4253.8122,4914,00291604603
VA-057,2461.48222542,3072,58901,274-988
MN-027,2156.883701,9471,1171,7381,5761,829
CO-037,1831.31,7541643,6091,656003,543
NV-037,0958.11921,1463,0326971,6104182,573
NJ-037,0417.78901591,2671,7992,2037231,679
MN-016,6536.201,7051,08101,5722,295-1,347
PA-166,5011.70412,0013,0481,4110323
IL-066,3436.25661001,7515012,1281,2972,547
AR-026,3162.4933772,5012,4249210714
AK-015,8750.5293067481900148
WA-035,7712.071603,0941,50046102,771
AL-025,7341.001,5002064,02800-5,322
NC-025,6323.21,1531,2191,2291,49752014172
SC-015,4970.935001,6913,45600-1,415
MI-115,4945.71,0843992,76826198204,174
FL-165,3963.880409302,6591,003078
NV-045,31910.791001725222,3261,3891,497
SC-055,2631.701,7368292,686012-3605
TX-325,1109.06211,2631,7958605710864
SD-014,9910.89451339372,97600-1,227
MD-064,8964.7004,8960004,896
NY-214,8120.902292,2682,31500-276
PA-104,7601.73296592,00694182501,560
CA-244,5170.755301,8402,12400269
IN-094,2381.5003,463775002,688
PA-134,2191.2088303,33600-4,219
TN-084,0360.90004,03600-4,036
CA-253,8837.25035581,986083602,767
FL-273,6672.80592,4554685211632,286
CA-483,5907.81,22701,51913570903,320
SC-043,4811.401,03102,45000-3,481
TX-163,4170.66181382,64219003,103
AZ-013,3352.446701,6911541,02303,027
AZ-083,2952.06401,989001,242811
FL-063,2511.702302,58931411802,163
OK-013,1141.20749642,30100-2,986
PA-173,0583.2220711,3181,4480118
MI-072,9721.101322,197643001,422
PA-092,8480.7007932,05500-1,262
ND-012,8360.7507162,094210-1,352
TN-022,8310.802333882,21000-2,055
NH-012,8261.619302,21827913602,268
KS-042,6550.5005831,5320540-1,489
HI-012,6510.9002,6510002,651
OR-022,5970.476252551679400-41
IL-142,5101.725402,132580662,262
MO-022,5081.635001,23392500658
TN-062,4901.3010302,38700-2,490
MS-032,4480.40002,44800-2,448
CA-502,4441.1002,41232002,380
OH-142,3731.1001,758615001,143
FL-252,3601.2001,2041,1560048
CA-452,3432.7006915531,09901,237
CA-162,3210.6001,1511,17000-19
OH-102,3020.603051,33166600360
TX-212,2891.505051,57221200855
UT-032,2480.606971,1374140026
NY-252,1850.8001,50468100823
NY-232,1310.401689491,01400-233
PA-052,0711.438001,6910002,071
PA-071,9991.9174078401,04101,999
ID-011,9910.4069801,29300-1,991
IN-041,9310.608201,84900-1,931
OH-071,9191.2001,503416001,087
AZ-091,8601.0001,24861200636
NJ-111,8152.5701,8034101,807
IA-021,8090.401001,7090001,609
TX-271,7920.40511721,20900-1,648
MI-091,7681.17801,6900001,768
PA-111,7510.7001041,64700-1,543
CA-391,7265.9594410135295580848
MA-031,6991.4001,6990001,699
VA-091,6670.3001,09357400519
IL-031,6141.540001,2140001,614
MA-011,5410.3001,5410001,541
NY-271,4580.50345313782180-796
TX-021,4441.60501291,26500-1,186
NE-031,4330.10001,43300-1,433
CA-361,3880.10094244600496
MI-021,3810.2001,15023100919
MN-071,3720.5414838750001,206
CT-051,3650.4001,3650001,365
FL-071,3161.2502056724700822
WV-021,2690.40089337600517
OH-041,2540.311086737600502
CO-051,2520.30361331,08300-986
IN-031,2460.30075748900268
CA-041,2380.6001,21622001,194
GA-071,2001.000878032201,200
WI-081,1560.300781,07800-1,000
NC-031,1400.30290080700-1,097
NC-051,1120.30001,11200-1,112
OK-051,0810.40086821300655
FL-171,0790.601,0790000-1,079
OK-021,0310.30307072400-1,031
IN-069940.50341065300-994
IL-179830.315468761000847
NV-029740.497300100972
NH-029310.40081012100689
FL-099060.53280578000906
NC-078250.20046935600113
PA-068030.500803000803
PA-147700.5083068700-770
AR-036690.200066100-661
AL-056670.20022744000-213
NC-086420.30030134100-40
FL-156390.8000276120585
VA-066360.10022041600-196
IA-046250.1410584000625
KY-036170.20022439300-169
NJ-076011.109036301480421
AL-036000.100060000-600
AL-065960.20209038700-596
PA-045760.41110465000576
MA-075680.400568000568
PA-125550.100155400-553
MI-135540.100554000554
GA-025530.155300000553
GA-125470.100054700-547
IL-105280.500528000528
OH-165010.332243022600-437

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Dems with More Dark Money than GOP

In partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, the Wesleyan Media Project tracks outside group ad spending by the type of donor disclosure. We classify groups as full-disclosure groups (meaning they disclose contributor lists to the Federal Election Commission), non-disclosing dark money groups (which are not required to publicly disclose their donors; these are most often 501c4 non-profits), and partial-disclosure groups (those that disclose donors but also accept contributions from dark money sources).

Table 6 outlines the type of disclosure for groups sponsoring ads in congressional races in the full cycle through October 25. Pro-Republican groups have out-advertised pro-Democratic ones in House races—125,000 airings to about 100,000—but the reverse is true in Senate races where pro-Democratic groups have sponsored more ads. Full disclosure groups account for only 8 percent of pro-Democratic ads in Senate races and 23 percent of pro-GOP ads.

Nearly four in every ten group ads on air (38.4 percent) come from dark money organizations. There is also more dark money from pro-Democratic groups than from pro-Republican groups. Forty-one percent of group-sponsored ads on behalf of candidates for the U.S. House are from dark money groups, compared to 28 percent for Republican candidates. Forty-three percent of group-sponsored ads for Senate Democrats are from dark money groups, edging out the 39 percent on behalf of Republican candidates.

Partial disclosing groups are also very active this cycle, making up another 42.4 percent of federal airings. Over half of the group-sponsored ads for House Republicans are from partial disclosing sources, as are nearly half of the outside group ads backing Senate Democrats.

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“In past cycles, the Republicans have tended to benefit more from dark money. But the pattern has shifted in 2018,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Democrats as a party are getting a lot of dark money support at the same that they are arguing for more campaign finance reform in this area.”

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Table 6: Outside Spending by Disclosure Type Cycle-to-Date (1/1/17 to 10/25/18)

 Pro-DemCol %Pro-GOPCol %
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1, 2017 and October 25, 2018.
Group classifications from the Center for Responsive Politics.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
House
Dark39,69340.5%34,63527.6%
Partial21,03621.4%69,69155.6%
Full37,35538.1%21,08916.8%
Total98,084125,415
Senate
Dark91,16943.4%78,15538.8%
Partial101,78648.4%76,51138.0%
Full17,1378.2%46,57723.1%
Total210,092201,243

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Table 7 shows the top groups advertising in the full cycle in congressional races, along with their group type and disclosure classifications. The partial disclosing Senate Majority PAC—aligned with Democratic candidates—leads the pack with over 80,000 airings in one year of activity. Of all the groups listed in Table 7, only six are full-disclosure groups. Eleven are dark money groups, and seven are partial disclosing groups.

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Table 7: Outside Spending by Groups Cycle-to-Date (1/1/17 to 10/25/18)

 First
Airing
Last
Airing
Ads
Aired
Senate
Ads
House
Ads
Disclose?TypeParty
Lean
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1, 2017 and October 25, 2018.
Group classifications from the Center for Responsive Politics.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Senate Majority PAC10/31/1710/25/1880,66380,6630PartialSuperPACDem
Cong. Leadership Fund3/3/1710/25/1869,575069,575PartialSuperPACGOP
Majority Forward5/25/1710/25/1862,63562,6350Dark501c4Dem
Senate Leadership Fund6/13/1710/25/1848,77448,7740PartialSuperPACGOP
One Nation2/26/179/7/1827,22027,2200Dark501c4GOP
American Action Network2/1/178/17/1819,609019,609Dark501c4GOP
House Majority PAC5/24/1710/25/1818,627018,627FullSuperPACDem
Americans for Prosperity10/6/179/17/1818,00418,0040Dark501c4GOP
Women Vote!2/17/1810/25/1817,3037,00910,294PartialSuperPACDem
America First Action12/6/1710/25/1816,3638,1618,202FullSuperPACGOP
New Republican PAC5/7/1810/25/1814,82414,8240PartialSuperPACGOP
US Chamber of Commerce5/1/1710/25/1812,7238,4764,247Dark501c6GOP
End Citizens United2/26/1810/25/1810,3606,4293,931FullPACDem
Patriot Majority USA5/10/1710/25/189,17609,176Dark501c4Dem
Restoration PAC5/13/1710/25/187,7767,7760FullSuperPACGOP
Club for Growth Action4/11/1710/25/187,5562,3605,196FullSuperPACGOP
DefendArizona8/4/1810/25/187,1207,1200PartialSuperPACGOP
Save My Care3/14/177/27/176,9673,8843,083Dark501c4Dem
Concerned Veterans for Amer.2/7/189/17/186,4296,4290Dark501c4GOP
League of Conservation Voters7/9/1810/25/186,2882,5463,742PartialSuperPACDem
VoteVets Action Fund2/9/1810/18/185,4363,1882,248Dark501c4Dem
Not One Penny8/25/177/29/184,947584,889Dark501c4Dem
With Honor Fund4/24/1810/25/184,91104,911FullSuperPACGOP
America First Policies4/17/179/30/184,4692,1212,330Dark501c4GOP

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Dems Maintain Advertising Advantages in Fight for Congress

As we reported in our last release, Democrats in the period after Labor Day had huge advantages in ads aired in congressional elections. For the period between October 16 and October 25, this advantage has continued, as Table 8 shows. Pro-Democratic ad sponsors have aired over 122,000 ads in House races compared to 73,000 from pro-GOP sponsors. Most of this advantage is because of ads aired by Democratic candidates, who are out-airing their Republican candidate counterparts at a nearly 2:1 ratio. The same is true in Senate races, where Democratic candidates are heavily out-advertising Republican candidates (60,000 to 33,000). The partisan balances in party and group spending are more even, though in most cases Democrats still have aired more ads than Republicans.

Table 8 also shows the balance of ads in the 2014 campaign. While Democrats also led in the air war in congressional races that year, the imbalances were less stark. In gubernatorial campaigns, however, Republicans are out-advertising Democrats, and this was similarly true in 2014. Republican Party efforts in these campaigns in 2018 are quite aggressive, while pro-Democratic groups are out-advertising pro-Republican group, helping to offset the imbalance.

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Table 8: Ad Totals in Congressional and Gubernatorial Campaigns (10/16 to 10/25)

2018Pro-DemPro-GOPDem to
GOP ratio
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between October 16, 2018 and
October 25, 2018 and between October 16, 2014 and October 25, 2014.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
House
Candidate81,96742,238
Party7,7527,904
Coordinated7,1093,021
Group25,22720,544
Total122,05573,7071.66
Senate
Candidate60,42833,378
Party8,8293,300
Coordinated2,6261,351
Group28,72024,496
Total100,60362,5251.61
Governor
Candidate41,50341,397
Party2312,340
Coordinated9,85811,949
Group19,7988,996
Total71,18274,6820.95
2014Pro-DemPro-GOPDem to
GOP ratio
House
Candidate25,61824,337
Party13,24011,394
Coordinated6,4261,662
Group7,9658,239
Total53,24945,6321.17
Senate
Candidate35,11926,100
Party9,4966,954
Coordinated860330
Group12,15816,951
Total57,63350,3351.14
Governor
Candidate33,48139,724
Party8,28516,624
Coordinated27428
Group13,8048,650
Total55,59765,4260.85

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Tables 9-11 shows the top races for ads aired in congressional and gubernatorial campaigns since October 15. In the top 5 races for governor, pro-GOP sponsors have out-advertised the Democrats. But in congressional races, very few top campaigns feature GOP advantages. In Senate races, for example, the top 16 campaigns (in terms of ads aired) have Democratic ad advantages, including relatively big ones in Florida, Tennessee, and Montana.

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Table 9: Top Gubernatorial Races (10/16 to 10/25)

StateAiringsEst. Cost
(In Ms)
Dem
Group
GOP
Group
Dem
Cand
GOP
Cand
Dem/Pty
Coord
GOP/Pty
Coord
Dem
Adv
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between October 16 and October 25, 2018.
The table is limited to races with at least 1,000 airings during the period.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
FL18,21412.7431,1471,805147,0778,128-364
OH13,4746.03,30102,9354,1293722,737-258
WI12,0925.03,0562,3902,1114,53300-1,756
OR10,2661.8004,3305,93600-1,606
IA9,1201.9004,2914,82900-538
MI8,3343.62,78102,4901,01902,0442,208
GA7,5604.11,22136743902,2973,236354
IL5,4763.109642,7681,07300731
KS4,7161.51,883385196401,015752
NV4,5734.81,3251361,07869701,337233
CO4,3472.56379531,9224400395771
OK4,3081.56741761,2231,7410494-514
SD4,2340.5002,6721,562001,110
PA4,2111.9002,6871,524001,163
ME3,7561.31,088093747001,261294
AZ2,9711.80020260462,159-2,555
SC2,8160.85407421,0850935-1,224
MN2,6481.51,02454662545300650
TX2,4730.90012,47200-2,471
TN2,4400.824201,0921,10600228
NM2,3872.062508286390295519
CT2,2191.408401,096254002
CA2,1041.581001,2940002,104
RI2,0080.776655781371001,121
MD1,7781.926801981,0590253-846
AK1,7650.201,055587000-468
MA1,6141.3023501,2501290-1,356

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Table 10: Top U.S. Senate Races (10/16 to 10/25)

StateAiringsEst. Cost
(In Ms)
Dem
Group
GOP
Group
Dem
Cand
GOP
Cand
Dem/Pty
Coord
GOP/Pty
Coord
Dem
Adv
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between October 16 and October 25, 2018.
The table is limited to races with at least 1,000 airings during the period.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
FL21,46616.46,2732,4984,4134,9502,4858474,876
IN18,0678.43,1474,0823,7244,1822,304628283
TN15,8796.14,2233,5924,8692,79703982,305
MT15,8234.53,2153,8143,8691,5362,1211,2682,587
MO14,2537.22,8784,3665,2381,762091,979
AZ11,8767.42,4831,9403,3421,8381,4718022,716
TX11,1856.502595,7465,18000307
WV9,8373.22,1901,4313,2411,8111,16403,353
NV7,6177.61,8431,2442,3371,23995402,651
ND5,6711.71,1318241,5949179562491,691
OH3,8902.13051613,217207003,154
MI3,7921.6002,6161,176001,440
WI3,5201.301802,649691001,778
NJ3,2804.81,03256521,5910088
VA3,2491.2003,2490003,249
MN3,2251.5002,823331002,492
MS3,0920.801009731,5690450-1,146
PA2,1071.2001,924183001,741
WA1,2780.30093234600586
MD1,1240.700695000695

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Table 11: Top U.S. House Races (10/16 to 10/25)

RaceAiringsEst. Cost
(In Ms)
Dem
Group
GOP
Group
Dem
Cand
GOP
Cand
Dem/Pty
Coord
GOP/Pty
Coord
Dem
Adv
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between October 16 and October 25, 2018.
The table is limited to races with at least 1,500 airings during the period.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

ME-026,3122.01,0961,7012,1101,3513519170
NY-226,0031.89436801,7047751,1127891,515
NC-095,2161.99466402,61622878603,480
NM-024,5051.34925012,3001756703672,419
VA-024,3361.193901,4774508366342,168
TX-233,9861.91,1186426355241,06341,646
MT-013,9660.4002,3751,59100784
NY-193,8521.13983241,92624766891928
WA-083,6133.41,3205711,09422543991,223
CA-103,5112.75865121,270607103433407
KY-063,4751.33688929571,25260-813
VA-053,4750.98221211,0368650631241
IA-033,2471.27246621,534326101,271
VA-073,0171.37406881,19739200857
WV-032,9570.94065771,19827749901,249
TX-072,8182.8867543943810384802
CA-212,8090.512001,1181,482890-155
MN-032,7302.16269692668172842718
MI-082,6842.047101,59614204751,450
NC-132,6370.84154201,38729843741,053
KS-022,6360.961444790804172501,242
IL-132,5931.34581601,33164004985
UT-042,5570.9379646907296032915
NY-242,4640.6422648616800437102
FL-262,3593.0519688472218795531
MN-082,3411.41481,00797021600-105
FL-182,2981.3105312656563499163222
KS-032,2350.93322611,02861400485
IA-012,1710.6913331,019272337119723
IL-122,1131.21115787803632810231
TX-322,1053.63544636824221840335
PA-012,0982.33946165807126411-98
MN-012,0552.001,17643404450-297
VA-102,0042.62240169284947380676
MN-021,9701.71080540210474638274
PA-101,9430.7329659643310205
CO-061,9311.5533086616613353893
OH-011,9120.706307642652530122
NV-031,8962.21923067573153260654
WA-051,8770.402769656360053
IL-061,8262.026003350387844138
CA-221,8110.511701,01268200447
TX-311,7800.6001,468312001,156
CO-031,7650.30094282300119
AK-011,6450.100046200-462
IN-021,6100.30079481600-22
MI-061,5710.5207574456721900113
WA-031,5700.517401,00439110788
GA-061,5261.4438068511787199894
CA-251,5213.9477322722000877

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Health Care, Health Care, Health Care…and Taxes

As we reported in our last release, health care is the top focus of 2018, particularly for Democrats, and this continues to be the case as the campaign comes to a close. In the full post-Labor Day period (September 4 through October 25), health care was mentioned in 45 percent of all federal ad airings. This was more than double the second-most-talked-about issue—taxes—that was mentioned in 22 percent of all airings. The third-ranked topic was the budget at a much smaller 14 percent of all airings, followed by Medicare and jobs at 12 percent each. Immigration was mentioned in 9 percent of airings in congressional races (slightly below references to campaign finance and corruption, each at 10 percent). Although references to energy/environment occur in 8 percent of federal airings, explicit discussion of issues like climate change are nearly absent from air (0.4 percent).

In gubernatorial races, health care was mentioned in 28 percent of all gubernatorial ad airings, ranking third overall after taxes (34 percent) and education (31 percent). Discussion of jobs took a distant fourth at 18 percent of airings. Public safety (16 percent) and corruption (11 percent) round out the next tier.

In Tables 12-14, we look at top issue mentions by Democrats and Republicans between September 4 and October 25 for US Senate, US House and gubernatorial races. Listed percentages show the rate of mentions for various issues, and because ads often feature more than one issue, percentages may add up to more than 100. (It is also not the case that one can add percentages down a column to make certain inferences about issue mentions. For example, in Table 12, 48 percent of Senate Democratic ads mention health care and 12 percent mention prescription drugs. These airings may overlap, meaning it is not the case that 60 percent of ads mention one or the other issue.)

Democrats are focused on health care in congressional and gubernatorial campaigns alike, with corruption and the budget distant runners-up in Senate race; taxes and social security far back in House races; and education and taxes behind, but still prominent, in gubernatorial campaigns.

For Republicans, health care makes the top 5 in statewide and congressional campaigns, but issue priorities are spread out in Senate races, and more heavily focused on taxes in House and gubernatorial races.

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Table 12: Top Five Issues/Mentions in U.S. Senate Advertising (9/4 to 10/25)

Pro-Democratic% of Airings Pro-Republican% of Airings
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between September 4 and October 25, 2018.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Health Care48%Taxes24%
Prescription Drugs12%Health Care21%
Corruption12%Immigration18%
Budget11%Pro-Trump17%
Campaign Finance11%Public Safety17%

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Table 13: Top Five Issues/Mentions in U.S. House Advertising (9/4 to 10/25)

Pro-Democratic% of Airings Pro-Republican% of Airings
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between September 4 and October 25, 2018.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Health Care59%Taxes41%
Taxes21%Health Care38%
Medicare19%Budget26%
Social Security16%Tax Reform15%
Tax Reform14%Jobs15%

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Table 14: Top Five Issues/Mentions in Gubernatorial Advertising (9/4 to 10/25)

Pro-Democratic% of Airings Pro-Republican% of Airings
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between September 4 and October 25, 2018.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Health Care42%Taxes43%
Education34%Education29%
Taxes25%Public Safety23%
Jobs14%Jobs22%
Public Safety9%Health Care14%

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About This Report

Data reported here from Kantar Media/CMAG do not cover local cable buys, only broadcast television, national network and national cable buys.

The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) provides real-time tracking and analysis of political advertising in an effort to increase transparency in elections. Housed in Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center – part of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life – the Wesleyan Media Project is the successor to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which disbanded in 2009. It is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government at Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, professor of government at Bowdoin College and Travis N. Ridout, professor of political science at Washington State University. WMP staff include Laura Baum (Project Manager), Dolly Haddad (Project Coordinator) and Matthew Motta (Research Associate).

The Wesleyan Media Project is supported by Wesleyan University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Data are provided by Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. WMP is partnering again this year with the Center for Responsive Politics, to provide added information on outside group disclosure.

Periodic releases of data will be posted on the project’s website and dispersed via Twitter @wesmediaproject. To be added to our email update list, click here.

For more information contact:
Lauren Rubenstein, lrubenstein@wesleyan.edu, (860) 685-3813

About Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., is known for the excellence of its academic and co-curricular programs. With more than 2,900 undergraduates and 200 graduate students, Wesleyan is dedicated to providing a liberal arts education characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism. For more, visit wesleyan.edu.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.

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