Super PACs Dominate Airwaves

Outside Spending Groups Air Over 80 Percent of Ads in GOP Primaries,
Almost All are Sponsored by Super PACs;

Big gaps between advertising and polls:
Pro-Bush ads more than double nearest GOP rival,
Pro-Cruz ads are rare and Trump noticeably absent,
Dark money fueling Rubio

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Report Highlights

Ad volume in 2015 compared to 2011, 2007
Aggregate ad spending and airings
Candidate ad volume; Trump airs zero ads
Right to Rise is most active GOP outside group advertiser
Full-disclosure groups dominate
Ads are overwhelmingly positive to date
Boston/Manchester, NH and Iowa markets see most advertising
Ad volume in the past two weeks
Obamacare recedes from advertising

Click here for an archived web chat discussing this report, featuring WMP's Erika Franklin Fowler, Michael Franz and Travis Ridout, along with the Center for Responsive Politics (Dec 15, 2015)
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Super PACs Dominate Airwaves


(MIDDLETOWN, CT) December 15, 2015 – The volume of GOP presidential ads on the airwaves this election year is up by nearly 45 percent over the same period in 2011, but super PACs are even more dominant than they were in previous cycles. These groups sponsored just 1 percent of ads to this point in 2007 and over two-thirds of ads in 2011, but they sponsored 81 percent from January 1 through December 9, 2015 (a 71 percent increase over 2011 and a 12,000 percent increase over 2007).

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“The fight for the nomination is no longer about candidates alone in this post-Citizens United era,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, adding, “The support offered by a super PAC is now a pre-requisite – some might say the foundation – of a candidate’s TV strategy.”


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Table 1: Advertising in GOP Presidential Primaries

YearCandidateOutside GroupTotal
Figures are from January 1 to December 9.
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.
2007Ads Aired26,18629126,477
Row %98.9%1.1%100%
Cost$22.2M$137K$22.4M
2011Ads Aired9,58020,95730,567
Row %31.3%68.6%100%
Cost$3.0M$14.9M$17.9M
2015Ads Aired8,52735,74344,270
Row %19.3%80.7%100%
Cost$4.8M$52.2M$57.0M
% volume increase over 2011-11%70.6%44.8%
% volume increase over 2007-67.4%12,183%67.2%
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In looking at the air wars on both sides of the aisle, the battle for the GOP nomination—with many more candidates than on the Democratic side—is about twice as intense, both over the cycle-to-date and in the last two weeks. Ads in the Democratic race total about 22,000 (with 4,500 ads between November 27 and December 9), compared to over 44,000 on the Republican side (with 8,000 in the last two weeks).


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Table 2: Presidential Ad Spending and Airings

 Since January 1Past Two Weeks
Figures are from January 1 to December 9, 2015.
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.
Est. Cost
(in millions)
AiringsEst. Cost
(in millions)
Airings
Democratic13.421,9072.24,583
Republican57.044,2969.48,033
Total70.466,20311.712,616

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Jeb Bush and super PACs supporting his campaign have sponsored 15,750 ads on broadcast television, national network and national cable television since January 1, at a cost of almost $26 million. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has aired no ads, and Ted Cruz has benefited from only 457 ads since the start of the year (through December 9th).

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“We’re seeing a big disconnect between advertising volumes and poll numbers on the Republican side so far this year. Bush and his super PAC have spent more than two and a half times his nearest Republican competitor, Marco Rubio, and yet he sags in the polls,” said Travis N. Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Meanwhile Donald Trump has aired zero ads and still stands atop the field in national polling, and Ted Cruz, who has aired 34 times fewer ads than Bush, is polling first in many Iowa polls.”

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“It’s far too early to call for the death of TV advertising,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “The Republican field is still crowded, which makes for a more challenging advertising environment. It is also important to remember that volume isn’t everything. All ads are not created equal; advertising content and the characteristics of the receiving audience matter and will condition their influence.”

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On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has double the ad total of her nearest competitor, Bernie Sanders (13,450 to 7,205). Martin O’Malley and former long-shot candidate Larry Lessig have aired very few ads.

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Table 3: Cost and Count of Ads Favoring Each Presidential Candidate (including supportive groups)

CandidateEst. Cost
(in millions)
Airings
Figures are from January 1 to December 9, 2015.
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.
Bush25.715,750
Clinton8.213,450
Sanders4.27,205
Rubio9.86,596
Carson1.54,666
Perry0.93,441
Jindal2.73,413
Kasich6.33,127
Christie5.72,718
Graham1.21,008
Cruz0.3457
Walker0.6441
Gilmore0.3419
Huckabee0.3417
Lessig0.1362
O'Malley0.2197
Paul0.4127
Pataki0.03101
Fiorina0.188
Biden0.320

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Right to Rise, Conservative Solutions Project Lead Group Sponsors

Looking more closely at the groups airing ads on the Republican side, we see differences in the number and type of groups advertising on behalf of each candidate—and in how much they are spending. The sole outside group spending on Bush’s behalf, Right to Rise USA, is a full-disclosure super PAC that has spent an estimated $25 million on over 15,000 ads in support of his candidacy (it has, in fact, sponsored nearly every ad on behalf of Bush), while the most active pro-Marco Rubio group, Conservative Solutions Project, has spent over $8 million on nearly 5,000 ads to back him.

In a change from the last presidential nomination race, almost all advertising sponsored by outside organizations this cycle is from single-candidate groups.


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Table 4: Outside Group Sponsors in GOP Presidential Race

GroupCost (in millions)Ad AiringsAdvocates for…Type
Figures are from January 1 to December 9, 2015. 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.
America Leads5.42,391Chris ChristieSuper PAC
America Next0.4539Bobby Jindalc4
America's Liberty PAC0.4127Rand PaulSuper PAC
American Encore0.1157c4
American Future Project0.1465Bobby Jindal527
American Legacy PAC0.00031Ben CarsonPAC
Believe Again2.12,409Bobby Jindal
Super PAC
Carly For America Committee0.188Carly FiorinaSuper PAC
Club For Growth0.7570PAC
Club For Growth Action0.0673Super PAC
Conservative Solutions PAC0.8760Marco Rubio
Super PAC
Conservative Solutions Project8.14,882Marco Rubio
c4
Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America0.3699c4
Keep The Promise I0.0057Ted Cruz
Super PAC
Keep the Promise III PAC0.0471Ted Cruz
Super PAC
New Day For America4.51,911John Kasich
Super PAC
New Day Independent Media Committee, Inc1.4802John Kasich
Super PAC
Opportunity And Freedom PAC0.93,441Rick Perry
Super PAC
Right To Rise USA25.215,220Jeb Bush
Super PAC
Security Is Strength PAC0.9588Lindsay Graham
Super PAC
Unintimidated PAC0.6441Scott Walker
Super PAC
We The People, Not Washington0.03101George Pataki
Super PAC
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The bulk of outside group advertising so far in the GOP primary has come from full-disclosure groups. Super PACs, which account for 79 percent of group ads on the air, have dominated the airwaves. Traditional PACs account for 2.1 percent of ad airings, and 527 organizations make up an additional 1.3 percent of airings. 501(c)(4) organizations, sometimes referred to as dark money organizations because they do not disclose their donors publicly, are responsible for nearly 18 percent of ad airings (6,330 ads). Advertising by Conservative Solutions Project – a 501(c)(4) organization supporting Marco Rubio – accounts for 77 percent of all dark money ads in the 2016 Republican primary to date.

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“It’s noteworthy that Conservative Solutions Project is spending far more than Rubio’s super PAC,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Rubio is the only candidate who is being backed by a dark money sponsor to such a high degree.”


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Table 5: Outside Group Ads in GOP Primary by Type

TypeDisclose
Donors?
Ad VolumeCost
(in millions)
% of group
volume
Figures are from January 1 to December 9, 2015. 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.
PACYes7491.12.08%
Super PACYes28,43042.479.03%
c4No63309.017.60%
527Yes4650.11.29%
TOTALS35,97452.6
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“These new data add clarity to the emerging picture of how money is getting into the 2016 elections," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "It is coming mostly from nominally independent groups that exist only to raise unlimited funds in support of a single candidate, and for the first time ever, these de facto extensions of the campaigns aren’t just super PACs. They now include 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that don't disclose their donors to the public.”

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Ad Campaign Remains Positive

To date, very few ads have been negative. Indeed, of the 66,203 ads aired in both parties’ races for the nominations, 84 percent have promoted a candidate as opposed to attacking a candidate or comparing one candidate against others.

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Table 6: Tone of Race by Party and Sponsorship

 PositiveNegativeContrastAirings
Figures are from January 1 to December 9, 2015. 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.
Democratic candidates99.2%0.0%0.8%21,459
Republican candidates92.3%0.0%7.7%8,527
Democratic groups4.5%51.6%44.0%448
Republican groups73.6%4.5%21.9%35,769
All groups and sponsors83.9%2.8%13.4%66,203

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Boston/Manchester, Des Moines See Most Advertising

The Boston/Manchester media market tops the list for presidential advertising, clocking in at 18,882 airings at an estimated cost of $31.3M. Des Moines, Iowa, is in second with just over 11,000 airings year-to-date. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is third with nearly 9,500 airings. Other early primary states receiving advertising are South Carolina and Nevada.


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Table 7: Top Media Markets in Presidential Nomination Race by Airings

MarketEst. Cost
(in millions)
Airings
Figures are from January 1 to December 9, 2015. Numbers include broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Boston, MA/Manchester, NH31.418,882
Des Moines, IA7.011,042
Cedar Rapids, IA4.59,447
Sioux City, IA2.84,901
Charleston, SC2.13,180
Burlington, VT2.03,029
Davenport, IA1.62,775
Columbia, SC2.32,598
Greenville, SC3.52,051
Myrtle Beach, SC1.31,939
Rochester, MN0.51,619
Portland, ME0.4925
Ottumwa, IA0.07416
Las Vegas, NV0.3398
Reno, NV0.06311
Omaha, NE0.02292
Augusta, GA0.09241
Savannah, GA0.08229
Charlotte, NC0.2181
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Table 8 focuses on advertising in the past two weeks (since November 27) and reveals some differences in the strategies employed by the candidates. For instance, almost all ads supporting Bush have been paid for by his super PAC, while Rubio’s campaign has sponsored just over half of airings supporting him. On the Democratic side, all advertising over the past two weeks has been sponsored by the campaigns; groups have refrained from advertising.

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Table 8: Candidate and Group Airings (Past Two Weeks)

Figures are from November 27 to December 9, 2015. Numbers include broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
CandidateOutside GroupsTotal
Favored CandidateEst. CostAiringsEst. CostAiringsAirings
Bush175K1284.6M2,4272,555
Rubio833K932813K7601,692
Carson357K1,0481,048
Kasich327K414335K192606
Graham331K420420
Gilmore331K419419
Huckabee331K417417
Christie605K322322
Cruz119K244244
Fiorina134K8888
Sanders1.2M2,5082,508
Clinton1.0M2,0412,041

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Obamacare Recedes from Candidate Attention

No single issue dominates the Republican race. Table 9 shows the three issues most often mentioned in advertising by candidates and the super PACs and other groups that support them. While Bush, Kasich and Paul have focused on issues of the budget, taxes and jobs, Cruz, Graham and Rubio have focused on international affairs. Perry, Jindal and Carson also frequently mentioned immigration. Obamacare, by contrast, is much less often mentioned: only in ads favoring Cruz is it among the top three issue mentions.

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Table 9: Top Issue Mentions by Candidate and Supporting Groups

CandidateTop Issue2nd Issue3rd Issue
Data based on analysis of ads aired from January 1 to December 9, 2015.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
BushTaxesJobsBudget
CarsonBudgetImmigrationDefense
ChristieAnti-ObamaIntl. AffairsPublic Safety
CruzIntl. AffairsAnti-ObamaAnti-ACA
GrahamIntl. AffairsPublic SafetyLibya
HuckabeeFaithAnti-ObamaIntl. Affairs
JindalFaithImmigrationPublic Safety & Intl. Affairs
KasichBudgetJobsTaxes
PaulBudgetTaxesEconomy
PerryImmigrationFaithJobs
RubioIntl. AffairsDefenseTaxes
WalkerTaxesBudgetUnions
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Download a PDF of this report here
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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. 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.


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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