Illinois Governor Race Most Expensive of 2018 So Far

Groups Start Spending in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin Senate Races

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March 15, 2018

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Report Highlights

IL Gov race most expensive
Outside groups in Senate races — IN, MO, WI top charts
PA-18 saw over 8,000 ad airings
4 in 5 ads from House & Senate candidates have been positive

• See our separate SPECIAL REPORT on guns in political ads (2010-2018)
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(MIDDLETOWN, CT) March 15, 2018 – Fewer than seven months remain before Americans will cast their ballots in federal and gubernatorial races, and spending on political ads is starting to ramp up. Up to now, the most expensive race in the country during 2018, by far, in terms of ad spending is the race for governor of Illinois, where an estimated $30 million has been spent on over 46,000 airings (Table 1). Democratic candidates have aired over 28,000 ads in their attempt to earn their party’s nomination on March 20, while Republicans have aired over 17,000 ads.

Illinois is followed by Florida (which also has the highest amount of outside group activity as discussed below), Tennessee, Iowa and Pennsylvania in terms of the number of gubernatorial ads aired.

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Table 1: Ad Counts and Spending in Governor Races

StateAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Dem
cand
airings
Rep
cand
airings
Dem
group
airings
Rep
group
airings
% outside
group
airings
Figures are from January 1, 2018 to March 12, 2018. Numbers include broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
IL46,15230.228,00717,487565-1.2%
FL8,2413.9903-3,7863,55289%
TN4,7542.4-3,675-1,07922.7%
IA3,9950.93,995---0%
PA3,2701.41733,097--0%
MI3,1981.23,1908--0%
GA2,6990.9-1,597871,01540.8%
ID2,6870.5-1,727-96035.7%
TX6510.6156495--0%
OK3840.2-91-29376.3%
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Six Senate races have seen more than 500 ad airings in 2018, as Table 2 shows. The list is topped by the Senate race in Indiana where about 6,700 ads have aired at an estimated cost of $1.9 million. Primary elections there are slated for May. The Wisconsin Senate race has seen just under 5,000 ads, with primary elections in August, while both West Virginia and Missouri have seen over 2,000 ads. Outside groups have been especially active in races in Indiana (49 percent of all airings), Wisconsin (89 percent of airings) and Missouri (100 percent of airings). The Senate seats in Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia and Wisconsin are all held by Democratic incumbents but are seen as highly competitive because all of those states voted for Trump in 2016.

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Table 2: Ad Counts and Spending in Senate Races

StateAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Dem
cand
airings
Rep
cand
airings
Dem
group
airings
Rep
group
airings
% outside
group
airings
Figures are from January 1, 2018 to March 12, 2018. Numbers include broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
IN6,7471.9-3,4511,1552,14148.9%
WI4,8931.1553-1,4212,91988.7%
WV2,6750.5-2,60669-2.6%
MO2,3010.6--9891,312100.0%
MS1,0030.2-1,003--0.0%
TN9390.3939---0.0%
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Table 3 shows that the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which was held Tuesday, has drawn the most advertising of any House race in 2018, generating well over 8,000 airings, with roughly a third of all airings coming from groups primarily on the Republican side. Several Texas districts are also in the top ten, including the 16th, 23rd, 2nd, 27th and 7th.

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Table 3: Ad Counts and Spending in House Races

DistrictAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Dem
cand
airings
Rep
cand
airings
Dem
group
airings
Rep
group
airings
% outside
group
airings
Figures are from January 1, 2018 to March 12, 2018. Numbers include broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
PA-188,6346.53,0267394502,41333.2%
TX-163,3610.72,5861961813822.5%
TX-231,5130.61,513---0%
TX-021,2651.5-1,265--0%
IL-131,2300.21,230---0%
TX-275660.1-566--0%
IA-034950.2--495-100%
IA-014750.133-442-93.1%
TX-074660.4466---0%
IL-034300.3315-115-26.7%
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Outside Group Activity: Florida Governor Race Draws Most Outside Money

The group All About Florida, which is backing Florida gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, a Democrat, has aired the most ads of any group so far in 2018, spending an estimated $1.8 million on 3,700 ads. More than a third (38 percent) of All About Florida’s ads explicitly favor strengthening gun regulations (for more details on gun references in campaign ads, see our special report). Watchdog PAC, founded by Florida’s House speaker, has also been spending heavily on ads. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, has started airing ads in the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri.

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Table 4: Ad Counts and Spending by Groups

GroupAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
Races
Figures are from January 1, 2018 to March 12, 2018. Numbers include broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
All About Florida3,7861.80Gov-FL
Watchdog Political Action Committee3,5521.70Gov-FL
Americans for Prosperity3,3041.00Sen-IN, Sen-MO
Concerned Veterans for America2,7030.60Sen-WI
Senate Majority PAC2,2130.70Sen-IN, Sen-MO, Sen-WV
Vote Vets Action Fund1,6220.50House-PA18, Sen-WI
Congressional Leadership Fund1,4231.30House-PA18
Tennesseans for Good State Government1,0790.40Gov-TN
Citizens for Georgia's Future1,0150.30Gov-GA
Idaho First PAC, Inc9600.20Gov-ID
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Candidates in House and Senate Ads Mostly Positive

To date, nearly 4 in every 5 House and Senate ads sponsored by candidates have been positive, as Table 5 shows. The vast bulk of remaining ads by candidates in these races have been contrast ads, which compare two candidates. There have been very few purely negative ads. Outside groups have been less positive, as is typical, with the bulk of their ads attacking an unfavored candidate.

This pattern reverses when we examine gubernatorial ads, with candidates sponsoring a lot fewer positive spots and outside groups sponsoring almost entirely promotional messages. The Illinois gubernatorial race is the primary driver of this finding, with 3 in every 4 candidate ads being pure attacks on primary election opponents. The outside spending in Florida’s gubernatorial race, which comprises the bulk of spending by groups in these races, has been entirely positive.

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Table 5: Tone of Ads by Sponsor (Percent of Ads Coded Positive)

 CandidateGroups
Figures are from January 1, 2018, to March 12, 2018. Numbers include broadcast television.
Tone of ads from Kantar Media/CMAG.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project
Senate76.4%30.1%
House88.0%30.6%
Governor37.2%93.1%
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About This Report

Data reported here from Kantar/CMAG do not cover local cable buys, only broadcast television, national network and national cable buys. All cost estimates are precisely that: estimates.

The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) 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, 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. 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 www.wesleyan.edu.

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