Advertising Volume Up 122% Over 2012 Levels;
Spending in Presidential Race Over $400 million

Presidential Advertising Largely Positive;
Dark Money Flooding Senate Contests

May 12, 2016

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Report Highlights

Advertising volume compared to 2008 and 2012
GOP pres. candidates relying more on outside groups
Top outside group sponsors
Milwaukee, Hartford, Indianapolis saw most ads since March 15
Super PACs pay for over 90% of GOP outside group ads
Candidate ads overwhelmingly positive
Issues featured in ads
Hottest Senate races are in PA, MD and AL
Senate Races: Top outside group sponsors
Senate Races: Dark money groups more active

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(MIDDLETOWN, CT) May 12, 2016 – Although the Republican Party has all but wrapped up its nomination race, the Democratic nomination remains a battle, and advertising volume and spending continue to mount. Advertising overall is up 122 percent over cycle-to-date volume at this point in the 2012 contest, and an estimated $408 million has been spent on television advertising in the presidential race so far, $138 million by Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning groups and $270 million by Republican candidates and Republican-leaning groups (Table 1). That amounts to over 480,000 individual ad airings on local and national broadcast television and on national cable. By comparison, fewer than 220,000 presidential ads had aired by this point in the 2012 cycle at an estimated cost of $120 million.

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Table 1: Ad Spending and Volume by Party and Sponsorship

   CandidateOutside GroupPartyTotal
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015, to May 8, 2016. Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Democrats2008Ads Aired239,3928,412116247,920
Row %96.6%3.4%0.0%100.0%
Est. Cost (in Millions)135.194.960.52
2012Ads Aired14,5436,2249,84230,654
Row %47.4%20.3%32.1%100.0%
Est. Cost (in Millions)5.234.216.12
2016Ads Aired230,5821,585232,167
Row %99.3%0.7%100.0%
Est. Cost (in Millions)135.662.38138.04
% Volume Change Over 2008-4%-81%-6%
% Volume Change Over 20121,486%-75%657%
Republicans2008Ads Aired78,7371,06079,797
Row %98.7%1.3%100.0%
Est. Cost (in Millions)57.20.47
2012Ads Aired64,157122,50655186,718
Row %34.4%65.6%0.0%100.0%
Est. Cost (in Millions)24.5878.730.02
2016Ads Aired114,529137,772249,327
Row %45.9%54.1%100.0%
Est. Cost (in Millions)64.14206.35270.5
% Volume Change Over 200845%12,614%212%
% Volume Change Over 201279%10%34%
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2016 Democratic presidential airings are up notably over 2012 levels when Obama and the Democratic Party were already spending toward the general election, but roughly on par with the 2008 contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, advertising volumes are up 34 percent over the 2012 primaries and 212 percent over 2008 levels.

Notably, the source of the parties’ ad spending was quite different. While over 98 percent of Democratic ad spending was done by the candidates’ campaigns themselves, only 24 percent of Republican ad spending was candidate-sponsored. The rest came from groups, many of them single-candidate super PACs.

Table 2 breaks down ad volumes and spending by which candidate it supports. The table totals counts all airings favoring a candidate including advertising by single-candidate super PACs and other supportive groups; however, advertising against Donald Trump not explicitly in favor of a particular Republican candidate as an alternative are included as a separate line since the beneficiary could have varied. The candidate who has benefited from the most advertising this cycle is Bernie Sanders, with nearly 125,000 airings at a cost of $73.7 million. Hillary Clinton is second, with 105,000 airings at a cost of $62.6 million. On the Republican side, Rubio benefited from the most advertising, with just under 60,000 ad airings. He was followed by Cruz (about 51,000), Bush (about 40,000) and Trump (about 33,000). Notably, anti-Trump messaging (those that did not explicitly advocate for a specific alternative) totaled 17,702 ads.

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“One remarkable aspect of this campaign is that the candidates who benefited from the most advertising did not necessarily fare well in the race,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Trump managed to become the presumptive Republican nominee in spite of being out-advertised. One reason for this is his amazing ability to attract free media.”


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Table 2: Cycle-to-Date Advertising Favoring Each Candidate (Including Supporting Groups)

Favored CandidateAiringsEst. Cost
(in Millions)
% Candidate
Airings
% Group
Airings
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015, to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
All airings favoring a specific candidate are included in the totals; ads that attacked Trump but did not explicitly advocate for an alternative are included in the “Anti-Trump” line.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Sanders, Bernie124,73273.799.9%0.1%
Clinton, Hillary105,37662.699.4%0.6%
Rubio, Marco59,27572.740.6%59.4%
Cruz, Ted51,22037.659.1%40.9%
Bush, Jeb39,06266.99%91%
Trump, Donald33,05018.5100%0%
Anti-Trump17,70224.20%100%
Kasich, John15,69618.952.9%47.1%
Carson, Ben12,1164.3100%0%
Christie, Chris5,79114.67.1%92.9%
Perry, Rick3,4411.10%100%
Jindal, Bobby3,4133.80%100%
Paul, Rand1,8171.749.8%50.2%
Huckabee, Mike1,694124.6%75.4%
Graham, Lindsey1,0081.441.7%58.3%
Fiorina, Carly7610.584.6%15.4%
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The group that spent the most in the presidential race—and aired the most ads—was Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush (Table 3). Conservative Solutions PAC, which supported Marco Rubio, aired the second most ads, followed by the pro-Cruz group, Stand for Truth. Our Principles PAC, which aired 7,000 ads attacking Donald Trump, aired the fourth highest number of ads.


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Table 3: Top Outside Group Sponsors in the Presidential Race

SponsorCycle-to-Date
Total Airings
Est. Cost
(in Millions)
2/15/16-5/8/16
Airings
Est. Cost
(in Millions)
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016, and from February 15 to May 8, 2016, respectively, for groups airing more than 1,500 ads.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Right To Rise USA (Pro-Bush)35,55862.43,1532.9
Conservative Solutions PAC (Pro-Rubio)30,16950.919,78334.1
Stand For Truth, Inc (Pro-Cruz)10,3309.26,1196.2
Our Principles PAC (Anti-Trump)7,0008.46,4288.1
Club For Growth Action6,5487.45,7916.3
New Day For America (Pro-Kasich)5,39312.42,3743.4
America Leads (Pro-Christie)5,37714.2
American Future Fund5,2789.14,6958.3
Keep The Promise I (Pro-Cruz)4,9576.42,6323
Conservative Solutions Project (Pro-Rubio)4,8827.5
Trusted Leadership PAC (Pro-Cruz)3,4613.23,4613.2
Opportunity and Freedom PAC (Pro-Perry)3,4411.1
Believe Again (Pro-Jindal)2,4092.8
New Day Independent Media Committee, Inc (Pro-Kasich)2,00631,2041.3
Club For Growth1,9702.51,9702.5
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Table 4 shows the top media markets from the period following the March 15 primaries just after Rubio dropped out. As shown in the table, Milwaukee, Hartford, and Indianapolis saw the most advertising with each over 4,000 ads. Cruz had large advantages in airings in both Milwaukee and Indianapolis. Sanders has an edge in both Milwaukee and Indianapolis whereas Hartford airings were more even between pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders ads. Salt Lake City and Indianapolis saw the highest volume of Anti-Trump ads.


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Table 4: Top Media Markets Following March 15 Primaries (Presidential Ads)

MarketStateTotal
Airings
Pro-
Cruz
Pro-
Kasich
Pro-
Trump
Anti-
Trump
Pro-
Clinton
Pro-
Sanders
Last
Air
Date
(in 2016)
Figures are from Mar 16, 2016 to May 8, 2016. 
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television. Excludes markets with fewer than 15 airings.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS:  Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
MilwaukeeWI4,7608715063702071,1541,6524/4
HartfordCT4,491-75--2,1192,2974/26
IndianapolisIN4,3812,125-707535-1,0145/3
New YorkNY3,966-14--1,7622,1904/19
PhiladelphiaPA3,764206-347-1,1752,0364/25
Green BayWI3,5921,000862172408901,1594/5
MadisonWI3,4923996012451807821,2854/3
South BendIN3,3971,608-656311-8225/3
La CrosseWI3,1387331212031424981,4414/5
PhoenixAZ3,041438-668-6111,3223/22
Salt Lake
City
UT2,563584541259574-6053/22
ProvidenceRI2,539----1,0051,5344/26
Ft. WayneIN2,406952-536257-6615/3
AlbanyNY2,380-199--6261,5554/19
Terre HauteIN2,228974-560239-4555/3
EvansvilleIN2,2011,146-407275-3735/3
HarrisburgPA2,197159-193-8141,0314/26
PittsburghPA2,16316519210-7171,0524/26
Wilkes BarrePA2,138191-201-6711,0754/26
RochesterNY2,08116123--6861,2564/17
WausauWI2,0626491981591101837634/5
SyracuseNY2,045-154--8011,0904/19
BuffaloNY2,006----7221,2844/19
TucsonAZ1,703--195-5229723/21
JohnstownPA1,674196-185-4028914/26
EriePA1,573124-246-5126914/26
BaltimoreMD1,185---2044914904/26
LouisvilleKY1,155475----6805/3
BinghamtonNY1,041-68--5004734/19
HonoluluHI1,026----2937333/26
LafayetteIN998282-225195-2965/3
PortlandOR861-169---6925/3
SeattleWA751-----7513/25
Yuma-El
Centro
AZ738----1655733/19
UticaNY672-83--2263634/19
ElmiraNY669-81--2463424/18
WatertownNY667-56--2893224/18
SpokaneWA514-----5143/25
CasperWY432-----4324/9
YakimaWA391-----3913/26
JuneauAK387-----3873/25
Idaho Falls-PocatelloID325-----3254/3
Twin FallsID280-----2803/21
CheyenneWY274-----2744/9
DuluthMN259-259----3/28
AnchorageAK241-----2413/24
BoiseID227-----2263/21
FairbanksAK173-----1733/25
BurlingtonVT163-----1634/19
BillingsMT159-----1594/9
CincinnatiOH109108---1-5/3
LincolnNE85--85---5/4
EugeneOR79-79----5/4
MinneapolisMN64-64----3/29
SalisburyMD64-64----4/26
North PlatteNE56--56---5/4
OmahaNE56--56---5/4
ClarksburgWV37-----375/8
CharlestonWV36-----365/6
Rapid CitySD33-----334/8
Las VegasNV23---23--3/17
Wheeling-SteubenvilleWV21-----215/6
Bluefield-BeckleyWV16-----165/6
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Table 5 shows that the states holding the earliest nomination events received the most advertising. The Boston media market, which covers part of New Hampshire, had the most ad airings at 28,915. It was followed closely by Des Moines and Cedar Rapids in Iowa. Sioux City, Iowa, was fourth, followed by Manchester, New Hampshire. Markets in South Carolina, Nevada, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan also saw fairly heavy volumes of advertising in the presidential race.


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Table 5: Top Media Markets by Volume and Spending

Media MarketTotal AiringsEstimated Cost
(in Millions)
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Boston28,91571.00
Des Moines28,74117.80
Cedar Rapids25,33311.30
Sioux City18,2888.70
Manchester, NH16,77418.50
Charleston, SC15,4638.80
Columbia, SC13,7529.90
Davenport13,6457.10
Greenville, SC12,22915.60
Myrtle Beach11,5326.00
Burlington10,3627.00
Las Vegas10,2779.70
Reno8,3082.30
Rochester, MN7,0942.00
Omaha6,0614.00
Chicago4,89417.10
Portland, ME4,7842.60
Milwaukee4,7643.7
Orlando4,7578.8
Detroit4,6486.3
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Super PACs Dominate Group Ad Spending

Table 6 breaks down interest group spending in the GOP primary nomination campaign by the type of sponsoring organization. Super PACs paid for over 90 percent of non-candidate sponsored advertising, amounting to nearly $190 million, while 501c4 (“dark money”) organizations have sponsored about 9 percent of non-candidate advertising. 527 organizations account for the rest of group-sponsored spending.

Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, explained, “The prevalence of super PAC spending is attributed to the proliferation of candidate-specific super PACs, at the moment a phenomenon largely unique to presidential campaigns.” The top three super PACs—listed in Table 3—account for nearly 76,000 airings.


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Table 6: Outside Group Ads in GOP Presidential Primary by Type

TypeDisclose Donors?Ad VolumeEst. Cost
(in Millions)
% of group volume
Figures are from January 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Disclosure information from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Super PACYes122,727188.391.07%
501c4No11,56517.98.58%
527Yes4650.170.35%
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Presidential Advertising Largely Positive

The tone of the ad campaign was quite positive, as Table 7 shows. Considering both candidate- and group-sponsored advertising, 76.0 percent of ad airings were positive (mentioning only the favored candidate), 11.3 percent were negative (mentioning only an opponent) and 12.8 percent were contrast (mentioning both the favored candidate and an opponent).

“You wouldn’t know it by watching the news media’s coverage of the campaign, but the advertising in this presidential race has been quite positive. Three in four ads on television this race have touted a candidate as opposed to attacking an opponent,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

The tone of the race varied considerably depending on who sponsored the advertising. Table 7 shows the tone of advertising for each candidate sponsor. Many candidates aired only positive ads, and those aired by Clinton and Sanders were over 99 percent positive. Across all candidates, about 92 percent of ads were positive. The least positive candidates were Larry Lessig (55.2 percent positive), Ted Cruz (56.3 percent positive) and Donald Trump (70.9 percent positive).


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Table 7: Tone of Candidate-Sponsored Advertising

Candidate% Positive% Negative% Contrast
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
Excludes minor candidates who aired few ads.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Kasich, John100.00%0.00%0.00%
Paul, Rand100.00%0.00%0.00%
Fiorina, Carly100.00%0.00%0.00%
Graham, Lindsey100.00%0.00%0.00%
Gilmore, Jim100.00%0.00%0.00%
Huckabee, Mike100.00%0.00%0.00%
Pataki, George100.00%0.00%0.00%
Sanders, Bernie99.90%0.00%0.10%
Clinton, Hillary99.60%0.00%0.40%
Bush, Jeb93.70%0.00%6.30%
Carson, Ben93.00%0.00%7.00%
Rubio, Marco85.40%0.00%14.60%
Christie, Chris79.00%0.00%21.00%
Trump, Donald70.90%12.90%16.10%
Cruz, Ted56.30%18.90%24.80%
Lessig, Larry55.20%0.00%44.80%
All candidates91.80%2.90%5.30%
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Group sponsors were much more negative than candidate sponsors, as Table 8 shows. Just under 36 percent of group-sponsored ad airings were positive, compared to 32.3 percent that were negative and 31.8 percent that made contrasts. Several groups, such as America Future Fund and SEIU, aired only negative ads.


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Table 8: Tone of Group Advertising

Sponsor% Positive% Negative% Contrast
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
Only includes groups that aired at least 100 ads.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Conservative Solutions Project (Pro-Rubio)100.00%0.00%0.00%
Believe Again (Pro-Jindal)100.00%0.00%0.00%
Security Is Strength PAC (Pro-Graham)100.00%0.00%0.00%
Purple PAC (Pro-Paul)100.00%0.00%0.00%
America Next100.00%0.00%0.00%
American Future Project (Pro-Jindal)100.00%0.00%0.00%
Unintimidated PAC (Pro-Walker)100.00%0.00%0.00%
Planned Parenthood Votes100.00%0.00%0.00%
Communications Workers Of American Working Voices100.00%0.00%0.00%
American Opportunity PAC100.00%0.00%0.00%
America Leads (Pro-Christie)79.00%4.70%16.20%
Pursuing America's Greatness (Pro-Huckabee)65.60%0.00%34.40%
SEIU COPE62.70%37.30%0.00%
New Day Independent Media Committee, Inc (Pro-Kasich)55.40%11.90%32.70%
Opportunity And Freedom PAC (Pro-Perry)48.50%0.00%51.50%
Right To Rise USA (Pro-Bush)39.80%25.00%35.20%
Keep The Promise I (Pro-Cruz)38.90%33.50%27.50%
Conservative Solutions PAC (Pro-Rubio)38.80%18.50%42.70%
Trusted Leadership PAC (Pro-Cruz)37.30%42.60%20.10%
America's Liberty PAC (Pro-Paul)37.00%0.00%63.00%
New Day For America (Pro-Kasich)19.30%0.00%80.70%
Stand For Truth, Inc (Pro-Cruz)0.00%51.00%49.00%
Our Principles PAC (Anti-Trump)0.00%100.00%0.00%
Club For Growth Action0.00%77.70%22.30%
American Future Fund0.00%100.00%0.00%
Club For Growth0.00%65.40%34.60%
Foundation For A Secure And Prosperous America0.00%100.00%0.00%
ESA Fund0.00%100.00%0.00%
SEIU0.00%100.00%0.00%
Generation Forward PAC (Pro-O’Malley)0.00%0.00%100.00%
American Encore0.00%100.00%0.00%
Californians For Population Stabilization0.00%100.00%0.00%
Carly For America Committee (Pro-Fiorina)0.00%0.00%100.00%
We The People, Not Washington0.00%100.00%0.00%
Total35.90%32.30%31.80%
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Presidential Candidates’ Issue Focus

The issue focus of presidential advertising has differed depending on the favored candidate as shown in Table 9. Ads promoting Clinton have tended to highlight women’s rights, health care and education while ads promoting Sanders have focused on Wall Street, the economy and financial services. On the Republican side, pro-Cruz and pro-Trump ads were more likely to focus on immigration while pro-Rubio spots highlighted foreign affairs and pro-Kasich ads featured the budget as the top issue.

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Table 9: Top Three Issue Mentions by Favored Candidate (Including Supporting Groups)

Favored CandidateTop Issue2nd Issue3rd Issue
Analysis based on ads aired from Jan 1, 2016 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Pro-ClintonWomen's RightsHealthcareEducation
Pro-SandersWall StreetEconomyFinancial Services
Pro-CruzImmigrationHealthcare/Anti-ACAFaith
Pro-KasichBudgetJobsTaxes
Pro-RubioForeign AffairsPublic SafetyEconomy
Pro-TrumpImmigrationForeign AffairsEnergy / Environment
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Senate Races Heating Up

Advertising in Senate contests is heating up rapidly as shown in Table 10 with Pennsylvania’s senatorial race seeing nearly double the ads of the number two contest. Incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and his outside group allies have already aired 6,514 ads (3,376 sponsored by Toomey himself) at an estimated cost of $9.4M while the three-way Democratic Pennsylvania contest between Joe Sestak, John Fetterman and Katie McGinty has racked up 15,795 airings at an estimated $22.9M from the candidates themselves and supporting groups.

Maryland’s contest to replace retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski has seen a total of 11,861 ads cycle-to-date primarily from the Democratic hopefuls (e.g., Chris Van Hollen has sponsored 5,046 airings to Donna Edwards’ 1,200). Alabama’s senatorial race is a close third with 11,412 airings to date. Incumbent Republican Richard Shelby has dominated the airwaves with 8,631 airings to Jonathan McConnell’s 2,088. Ohio (ranked #4 with 10,909 airings) and Wisconsin (ranked #5 with 9,363 airings) have also seen heavy activity on both sides of the aisle.


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Table 10: Top Senate Races to Date

StateAll AiringsPro-DemocraticPro-Republican
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Airings% GroupEst. Cost
(in Millions)
Airings% GroupEst. Cost
(in Millions)
PA22,30915,79529%22.96,51448.20%9.4
MD11,86111,61446%12.92470.00%0.2
AL11,412790.00%011,3335.40%6.8
OH10,9095,15081%5.35,759100.00%8.4
WI9,3634,74263%3.74,621100.00%5.7
IN6,215-06,21529.50%5.3
IL5,6873,54644%7.32,14113.80%1.8
NV5,5262,6053%1.72,921100.00%3
NH3,7371,30697%1.72,43073.00%3.4
CO3,1432,05240%1.81,09199.70%1.3
FL1,887140%01,8730.00%1.9
IA1,450522100%0.3887100.00%0.9
MO1,211195100%0.31,016100.00%1.6
KY1,1711,1710%0.5-0
NC7932940%0.44990.00%0.4
AR631-063119.00%0.4
AZ485-0485100.00%0.5
WA288288100%0.4-0
GA147-01470.00%0.1
CA22-0-0
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All told, 98,247 Senate ads have aired this cycle, just under the 100,676 Senate ads that had aired by this point in time in the 2012 cycle.

Several groups are already involved in advertising in the 2016 Senate races, having spent $71 million already. As Table 11 shows, airing the most ads was Women Vote, a super PAC affiliated with Emily’s List, which was involved in primary races in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has started advertising in Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania—all potential Senate battlegrounds.


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Table 11: Most Active Groups in Senate Races

GroupAiringsEst. Cost
(in Millions)
States Advertising in
Figures are from Jan 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
We include all ads that mention individuals running for office, and therefore sums may include issue advocacy advertising.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Women Vote5,0497.4MD, PA
U.S. Chamber Of Commerce4,3506.3AZ, IL, IN, NV, OH, PA
One Nation4,1938.5IA, IN, MO, NH, NV, OH, PA
Americans For Prosperity3,8394.6NH, OH, WI
Senate Majority PAC2,4513.8NH, NV, OH
Judicial Crisis Network2,1622.7AZ, CO, IA, NH, PA, WI
League Of Conservation Voters1,9302WI
American Chemistry Council1,6482.2MO, OH, PA
Concerned Veterans For America1,5961.6NV, PA
New Leadership For Ohio1,5791.3OH
Environmental Defense Action Fund1,5763.6PA, WI
Freedom Partners Action Fund1,3631.7NV, OH, WI
Working For Us PAC1,2411.9MD
Accountable Leadership1,1112.7PA
End Citizens United1,0000.8IA, MO, NH
Club For Growth Action9381.4PA, WI
Restoration PAC8961.5WI
Senate Leadership Fund8741.4IN
Sierra Club8561OH
Natural Resources Defense Council1,7505.1IL, OH

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Dark Money Flooding Senate Races

Finally, Table 12 breaks outside group spending in Senate races by the type of organization. Dark money in Senate races makes up a much greater percentage of total group spending than in the presidential race. Roughly 59 percent of outside group spending has been sponsored by 501c organizations, which are not required to disclose their donors. Thirty-five percent has come from super PACs (such as Women Vote and Senate Majority PAC), which do disclose.

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“Presidential candidates can count on some free air time from news outlets as the race for the White House dominates the media’s attention,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Senate candidates don’t have that luxury. They and their allies need to pay to get their message out in their state, and they’re leaning more than ever on groups that can accept unlimited anonymous contributions.”

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Table 12: Outside Group Ads in Senate Races by Type

TypeDisclose Donors?Ad VolumeEst. Cost
(in Millions)
% of group volume
Figures are from January 1, 2015 to May 8, 2016.
Numbers include broadcast television, national network and national cable television.
We include all ads that mention individuals running for office, and therefore sums may include issue advocacy advertising.
*Natural Resources Defense Council (501c3) aired attacks against Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Disclosure information from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Super PACYes16,10224.233.5%
501c3*No1,7505.13.6%
501c4No20,80335.143.3%
501c6No5,9988.512.5%
CorporationNo1013.70.02%
PACYes3,4093.37.1%
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About This Report

Data reported here do not cover local cable buys, only broadcast television, national network and national cable buys. We include all ads that mention individuals running for office, and therefore sums may include issue advocacy advertising. All cost estimates are precisely that: estimates. Disclosure categorization information on outside groups comes from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Wesleyan Media Project provides real-time tracking and analysis of all political television 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, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College and Travis N. Ridout, professor of political science at Washington State University. Laura Baum is the Project Manager. Dolly Haddad is the Project Coordinator and Matthew Motta is the Research Associate.


The Wesleyan Media Project
is supported by grants from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Wesleyan University. Data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project using Academiclip, a web-based coding tool. The Wesleyan Media Project is partnering this year with both the Center for Responsive Politics, to provide added information on outside group disclosure, and Ace Metrix, to assess ad effectiveness.

Periodic releases of data will be posted on the project’s website and dispersed via Twitter @wesmediaproject.
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For more information contact:
Lauren Rubenstein, lrubenstein@wesleyan.edu, (860) 685-3813

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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 www.wesleyan.edu.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

About the Center for Responsive Politics
The Center for Responsive Politics is the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the organization aims to create a more educated voter, an involved citizenry and a more transparent and responsive government. CRP’s award-winning website, OpenSecrets.org, is the most comprehensive resource available anywhere for federal campaign contribution and lobbying data and analysis.

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