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Photo: Mike Bloomberg Campaign

Bloomberg Ad Spending Unprecedented,
Tops Previous General Election Candidate Spending


(MIDDLETOWN, CT) February 26, 2020 – A new analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project has identified $617 million in spending on television ads in the presidential race, while digital spending in the presidential race has soared to about $260 million.

“It is possible we reach $1 billion in ad spending before Super Tuesday,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Television advertising was led by Michael Bloomberg, whose spending has surpassed $377 million for over 444,000 ads (Table 1). Tom Steyer has spent $144 million, while Bernie Sanders has spent $20 million on television ads in the nomination campaign. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has spent $17 million on television ads since January 2019.

Table 1: TV Ad Airings and Spending by Candidates

SponsorAiringsSpending ($)
Bloomberg, Michael444,156377,362,070
Steyer, Tom246,402144,879,840
Sanders, Bernie60,46720,348,820
Trump, Donald4,69817,102,360
Buttigieg, Pete22,56511,175,070
Yang, Andrew26,6449,004,890
Warren, Elizabeth20,1557,006,960
Biden, Joe15,6764,740,360
Klobuchar, Amy11,5214,642,660
Gabbard, Tulsi4,7411,591,930
Gillibrand, Kirsten2,7881,075,750
Bennet, Michael1,649902,520
Delaney, John1,439547,720
Bullock, Steve809402,650
Harris, Kamala810401,050
Booker, Cory447113,480
Sestak, Joe10357,000
Castro, Julian5027,800
Matern, Matt2623,040
Gravel, Mike57,700
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television, syndication, and national cable between January 1, 2019,
and February 23 , 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Candidate spending has overshadowed group spending in the presidential race this year, with just under $16 million in spending by groups (Table 2). The biggest spender is Unite the Country, a super PAC that supports Joe Biden. It mostly aired ads in Iowa and in New Hampshire, but put some ads on the air in Nevada before the caucus there. It has aired no ads (through 2/23) in upcoming Super Tuesday states. Also notable is the presence of Persist PAC, which has spent almost $800,000 (in Nevada and South Carolina) on ads in support of Elizabeth Warren and Kitchen Table Conversations, which has spent over $450,000 on ads (mostly in Nevada and South Carolina) supporting Amy Klobuchar. In addition, DMFI PAC, a pro-Israel organization, spent over $1 million on ads that attack Bernie Sanders (before the Iowa and Nevada caucuses).

Table 2: TV Ad Airings and Spending by Groups in Presidential Race

SponsorAiringsSpending ($)
Unite the Country4,7574,503,770
AB PAC1,2911,324,080
Judicial Crisis Network401,059,990
DMFI PAC1,8371,028,170
Need to Impeach66936,330
Reason to Believe PAC494863,590
Persist PAC910787,790
Act Now on Climate786776,210
AB Foundation975753,320
Kitchen Table Conversations583469,120
Planned Parenthood Action Fund8253,030
United We Win Super PAC266203,380
Committee to Defend the President104171,090
Math PAC40144,720
Defend American Democracy10113,550
Senate Leadership Fund327102,190
Demand Justice1261,820
Club for Growth Action2253,460
Shining City Upon A Hill3251,500
National Biodiesel Board4331,930
Club for Growth514,800
Democratic Coalition18,200
Republicans for The Rule of Law14,880
Tax March42,940
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between January 1, 2019,
and February 23, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Bloomberg, Steyer Biggest Ad Spenders in Recent History

Both Bloomberg’s and Steyer’s spending have shattered historical records for this point in a presidential campaign. Table 3 shows ad spending by sponsor through February 23 in each of the past four election cycles (2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020). Prior to 2020, the most any sponsor had spent during a presidential nomination race was the $62 million by Right to Rise, a super PAC that supported Jeb Bush in 2016. Obama’s campaign had spent $44 million up to this point in 2008, while both Clinton’s and Romney’s campaigns had spent about $31 million in that same year.

“Clearly, ad spending by both Bloomberg and Steyer is in a whole different league,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Traditionally, a lack of money has helped to winnow candidates from nominations races, but that dynamic is different this year in part because there are two candidates with almost unlimited funds.”

Table 3: TV Ad Airings and Spending by Sponsor and Cycle (2008-2020)

(in Ms)
Bloomberg, Michael^444,156377.42020
Steyer, Tom^246,402144.92020
Right to Rise USA35,55862.22016
Obama, Barack67,21644.52008
Clinton, Hillary47,98131.92008
Romney, Mitt36,45331.32008
Clinton, Hillary50,94027.92016
Sanders, Bernie51,76427.12016
Sanders, Bernie60,46720.32020
Conservative Solutions PAC12,63219.52016
Trump, Donald4,69817.12020
Restore Our Future, Inc.24,26115.32012
America Leads5,37714.22016
Rubio, Marco20,03812.82016
Buttigieg, Pete22,56511.22020
Romney, Mitt21,74111.12012
Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies14,49710.72012
McCain, John13,5649.92008
New Day for America3,3679.42016
Yang, Andrew26,6449.02020
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between January 1 of the
year prior to the election and February 23 of the year of the election.
^Bloomberg and Steyer have both purchased ads on syndicated programs, which are included.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

To further illustrate the unprecedented levels of ad spending in the current nomination race, Table 4 shows how Bloomberg and Steyer totals through February 23 stack up against top advertisers across the full cycle (including general election spending). Bloomberg ranks first in total spending (more than any other single ad sponsor’s advertising from the full election cycle), and third in total airings. Bloomberg has already aired more ads than Hillary Clinton’s campaign did during the entire 2016 election. Only Barack Obama’s campaign aired more total ads (in both 2008 and 2012 over the course of the full election cycle including the general election).

In fact, it is likely the case that Bloomberg has aired the most ads if you include local cable spending. According to data from Kantar/CMAG, Bloomberg has spent $23 million on local cable ads, which in 2008 and 2012 was not generally a venue for political ads. We do not have local cable spending totals for Obama in either of his campaigns, but under the assumption that those totals were generally low, then it is reasonable to infer that Bloomberg’s efforts there make him the candidate with the most television ads ever in a political campaign.

Table 4: Ad Airings and Spending by Sponsor and Cycle – Full Election Cycle (2008-2020)

(in Ms)
Obama, Barack560,736306.62012
Obama, Barack549,451289.22008
Bloomberg, Michael^444,156377.42020*
Clinton, Hillary402,344257.62016
Steyer, Tom^246,402144.92020*
Romney, Mitt245,626139.62012
Sanders, Bernie128,49475.92016
Trump, Donald120,90891.22016
McCain, John120,70357.42008
Restore Our Future, Inc.117,709110.12012
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between January 1 of the
year prior to the election and Election Day.
*Figures for 2020 include only ads aired through February 23.
^Bloomberg and Steyer have both purchased ads on syndicated programs, which are included.

Super Tuesday TV Spending

Table 5 shows spending in those media markets in states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3—and the percentage of ads aired by each candidate. Boston has seen the most ads—almost 30,000—but many of those aired prior to the New Hampshire primary (much of New Hampshire is reached by Boston television stations). California media markets have seen heavy advertising, with over 24,000 ads in Los Angeles. Airings have been about evenly split between Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in California markets, with each candidate buying over 40 percent of the total ad airings.

Michael Bloomberg has dominated the airwaves in several Super Tuesday states, including most of the South. Bloomberg has accounted for the vast majority of ad airings in most Texas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee media markets. Bloomberg has also dominated in Colorado and Utah.

Notably, Biden and Buttigieg have aired no ads aimed at Super Tuesday voters. Their ad totals in Table 5 were in markets that had coverage in either Iowa or New Hampshire, and those ads aired in advance of both contests.

To an extent, this is similarly true for Sanders. His campaign’s ads in Boston, Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine, were aimed at New Hampshire voters, and ads in Rochester, Minnesota, were aimed at Iowa caucus goers. He has, however, been on the air in Colorado, California and Texas (and other states) in advance of those primaries.

Table 5: TV Ad Airings by Media Market and Sponsor

MarketStateAiringsBiden %Bloomberg %Buttigieg %Gabbard %Klobuchar %Sanders %Steyer %Warren %
Los AngelesCA24,057040.5000950.50
San FranciscoCA19,6160480008.543.50
San DiegoCA17,6500490008.742.20
Santa BarbaraCA8,309041.3000058.70
Portland, MEME8,062035013.11.535.10.85.3
San AntonioTX5,933071.4000199.60
Salt Lake CityUT5,426098.900001.10
El PasoTX5,044089.30008.81.90
Greenville, NCNC4,503085.5000.65.48.50
Palm SpringsCA4,491026.1000073.90
Fort SmithAR4,452087.2000012.80
Little RockAR3,822077.2002.86.713.30
Colorado SpringsCO3,50009400001.24.7
Oklahoma CityOK3,130095.7001.902.50
Corpus ChristiTX3,095095.70004.300
Grand JunctionCO1,262083.400005.611
Springfield, MAMA1,03007400023.72.30
Wichita FallsTX607095.200004.80
Jackson, TNTN407056.8000043.20
Yuma-El CentroAZ2230100000000
San AngeloTX460000001000
Presque IsleME120000001000
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television, syndication and national cable between January 1, 2019, and February 23, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Digital Ad Spending Surpasses $250 Million

Table 6 shows that digital ad spending in the presidential campaign on the two major platforms, Facebook (including Instagram) and Google (including YouTube) has surpassed $238 million among candidates still in the race as of February 2. The total including candidates who dropped out before then is $260 million. This includes spending by candidates and single-candidate super PACs. Bloomberg’s spending on the two platforms has now exceeded $100 million, with $43 million of that being spent since February 2. Trump’s campaign has spent $43 million on the two platforms, with about $4 million of that since the beginning of the month. Steyer has spent $30 million on digital ads. Since the beginning of January 2019, about 59 percent of the spending on the two platforms has been on Facebook/Instagram.

Table 6: Digital Ad Spending on Facebook and Google

(since Jan 2019)
(since Feb 2)
(since Jan 2019)
(since Feb 2)
FB + Google
(since Jan 2019)
FB + Google
(since Feb 2)
Bennet, Michael895,78120438,4000934,181204
Biden, Joe4,230,820373,8912,490,500376,9006,721,320750,791
Bloomberg, Mike53,873,24526,328,60248,375,70017,240,100102,248,94543,568,702
Buttigieg, Pete8,281,7481,064,7707,009,9001,066,90015,291,6482,131,670
Gabbard, Tusli1,145,42487,9682,108,100128,3003,253,524216,268
Klobuchar, Amy2,682,830238,2382,361,1001,098,4005,043,9301,336,638
Patrick, Deval20,05733293,20010,600113,25710,932
Sanders, Bernie9,908,3351,910,0045,896,2001,451,60015,804,5353,361,604
Steyer, Tom21,948,2212,334,4158,273,9001,675,50030,222,1214,009,915
Trump, Donald27,314,2032,673,16015,743,7001,296,70043,057,9033,969,860
Warren, Elizabeth7,762,883673,8444,466,700298,10012,229,583971,944
Weld, William32,1944,4550032,1944,455
Yang, Andrew2,118,05876,9111,033,80024,2003,151,858101,111
Unite the Country
Kitchen Table Conversations PAC
Persist PAC
Figures come from the Facebook ad library reports and the Google Transparency Report. Spending covers the January 6, 2019,
to February 22, 2020, period for Facebook and Google.
Candidate numbers include spending by official campaign committees, leadership PACs, and joint fundraising committees.
For some candidates, totals also include spending from their Senate or House campaign accounts. Candidates who dropped
out of the race prior to our last press release on digital (2/2/2020)—and groups that did not air presidential-related ads
in the past month but did earlier—are not listed in this table, but their spending is included in the $260 million total mentioned above.
See “About the Data” section at the end of this report for more information on our methodology.

Table 7 reports total candidate spending across platforms (digital, broadcast, cable, satellite and radio). Candidates are relying to varying degrees on digital advertising (as compared to television, cable, satellite and radio), as Table 7 shows. Digital spending (counting just Facebook and Google) ranges from 15.5 percent of total ad spending for Steyer and 19.8 percent for Bloomberg to 54.1 percent for Biden and 70.8 percent for Trump.

“It makes sense that Trump is investing heavily in digital right now and not going on television, which is generally aimed at persuading voters ahead of Election Day,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Bloomberg’s relative focus on television also makes sense, as his goal right now is to win as many votes as possible on Super Tuesday—he doesn’t need to raise money through online ads.”

All candidates have spent a greater percentage of their resources on Facebook than Google, but the difference is small for Bloomberg (10.4 percent of his spending on Facebook v. 9.4 percent for Google). At the other end of the scale, Trump had devoted considerably more to Facebook than to Google (44.9 percent v. 25.9 percent).

Table 7: Ad Spending By Medium

% Digital
Total Spending
(in Ms)
Biden, Joe54.1342012.4
Bloomberg, Mike19.810.49.4516.7
Buttigieg, Pete47.125.521.632.5
Klobuchar, Amy39.621.118.612.7
Sanders, Bernie36.62313.743.2
Steyer, Tom15.511.34.3194.6
Trump, Donald70.844.925.960.8
Warren, Elizabeth54.734.72022.4
Figures come from Kantar/CMAG for total spending (which includes broadcast TV, local and national cable, satellite TV and radio)
and from the Facebook ad library reports and the Google Transparency Report. Spending covers the January 6, 2019, to
February 23, 2020 for Kantar and January 6, 2019, to February 22, 2020, period for Facebook and Google.
Candidate numbers for digital ads include spending by official campaign committees, leadership PACs, and joint fundraising
committees. For some candidates, digital totals also include spending from their Senate or House campaign accounts. TV and
radio totals only include candidate-sponsored ads.
See “About the Data” section at the end of this report for more information on our methodology.

Attacks on Trump Continue, with Health Care a Top Issue

As Table 8 shows, candidates have taken differing strategies with respect to attacking Donald Trump. While over 70 percent of Biden and Bloomberg’s TV advertising has attacked Trump, fewer than 1 in 5 of Buttigieg’s TV ads have done the same. We compare also the percentage of Trump mentions in ads aired through February 23 with our previously reported totals for ads aired through February 2. In those three weeks, Biden, Bloomberg, and Warren have slowed the pace of attacks on Trump, while Buttigieg and Sanders have increased their contrasts with the president.

Table 8: Mentions of Trump in TV Ads by Candidate

% Mention
% Mention
Biden, Joe11,03315,67670.482.9-12.5
Bloomberg, Mike318,790444,15671.890.3-18.5
Buttigieg, Pete4,45122,56519.714.94.8
Gabbard, Tusli6634,74114014
Klobuchar, Amy7,74411,52167.267.8-0.6
Sanders, Bernie34,20960,46756.639.617
Steyer, Tom89,048246,40236.136.6-0.5
Warren, Elizabeth11,96520,15559.471.9-12.5
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television, syndication and national cable between January 1, 2019,
and February 23, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Table 9, we show the top issues mentioned by the candidates in all of their television ads. Health care is the top issue for Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, and Sanders. Energy and environmental issues top the list for Steyer, while Warren has focused on combating corruption.

Table 9: Most Mentioned TV Ad Issues by Candidate

on the
% of
Biden, JoeHealth care6,79543.3
Biden, JoeGun control4,66329.7
Biden, JoeInt'l affairs4,55329
Biden, JoeSocial issues3,53222.5
Biden, JoeRussia3,22520.6
Bloomberg, MikeHealth care260,47658.6
Bloomberg, MikeJobs188,00842.3
Bloomberg, MikeGun control160,55636.1
Bloomberg, MikeEnergy/environment134,13130.2
Bloomberg, MikeEducation132,81729.9
Buttigieg, PeteHealth care6,90730.6
Buttigieg, PeteManufacturing5,54124.6
Buttigieg, PeteJobs4,07518.1
Buttigieg, PeteGun control2,94213
Buttigieg, PeteEnergy/environment2,93913
Gabbard, TusliHealth care3,05164.4
Gabbard, TusliEducation2,36449.9
Gabbard, TusliIraq2,33849.3
Gabbard, TusliEnergy/environment2,13345
Gabbard, TusliBudget91819.4
Klobuchar, AmyHealth care6,13253.2
Klobuchar, AmyEducation3,56931
Klobuchar, AmyEnergy/environment2,83124.6
Klobuchar, AmySocial issues2,80124.3
Klobuchar, AmyVeterans2,69323.4
Sanders, BernieHealth care41,37568.4
Sanders, BernieEconomy23,99639.7
Sanders, BernieSocial issues22,92437.9
Sanders, BernieMinimum wage22,90337.9
Sanders, BernieCampaign finance reform20,75734.3
Steyer, TomEnergy/environment143,84258.4
Steyer, TomEconomy88,86936.1
Steyer, TomEducation57,63423.4
Steyer, TomHealth care55,44722.5
Steyer, TomTaxes49,20120
Warren, ElizabethCorruption11,22855.7
Warren, ElizabethCampaign finance reform7,47637.1
Warren, ElizabethEconomy6,28331.2
Warren, ElizabethFinancial services5,14725.5
Warren, ElizabethFinancial reform5,14725.5
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television, syndication and national cable between January 1, 2019,
and February 23, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

About the Data

For the television ad totals, data reported here are from Kantar/CMAG and do not cover local cable buys, only broadcast television, national network and national cable advertising except where they are noted in Table 7.

For Facebook ads, data come from the aggregate reports. Aggregate report entries are provided for each page name and disclaimer combination. In early January 2019, Facebook did not include page IDs (a unique identifier) for each entry in the aggregate report. Because pages can have the same name, a unique identifier for each page would be required to definitively identify an aggregate report entry, which Facebook does not provide going backward. Therefore, we did our best to associate each entry in the January 5, 2019, report with a page ID, which we had access to through the library API. There may be some slippage if two pages associated with presidential candidates had identical names and disclaimers, but we believe these instances are rare for the set of ads covered in this report. We looked for pages attached to each candidate, including possible leadership PACs, joint-fund-raising committees, and affiliated Senate/House pages. To calculate our totals for this report, we used the 1/5/19 report and merged on the 2/22/20 report totals. In each report, Facebook provides the to-date totals for each row, which covers the full archive back to May 2018. We subtracted the 1/5/19 total from the 2/22/20 total to get the spending by page and disclaimer for 1/6/19 through 2/22/20. Pages can sponsor ads that are funded by different entities. We made the assumption that all spending by federal office-holders running for president this cycle (e.g., Cory Booker) was in support of their presidential campaign up until they date they dropped out of the presidential race (if applicable), even if some spending was reported from their House or Senate page or leadership PAC, especially because many of the leadership PAC spending occurred on the same pages as the campaign spending. We separate Tom Steyer’s totals from Need to Impeach because he is not currently an elected official, and Need to Impeach ran anti-Trump ads before Steyer announced his run for the Democratic nomination (Need to Impeach is also a super PAC). Advertisements run by pages known to be associated with presidential candidates are included even in instances where the ads ran without an appropriate disclaimer.

In Table A (click here to download), we list the page names/disclaimer rows from the aggregated reports that we identified for this report. It is possible that we missed some spending from a Facebook page affiliated with a candidate running for office. This is exacerbated by the absence of EIN or FEC identifiers in the Facebook reports. A few disclaimers changed from being in all caps to proper case between this WMP report and previous reports.

For Google ads, we downloaded the weekly reports from the platform’s Transparency Report. As a matter of practice with all of the platform data, we try to replicate our prior spending figures when we are calculating numbers for a new release. In that process, we discovered discrepancies between the data we downloaded in November and the information available in the December download for the same dates, which persists in January. Based on conversations with Google, we believe the discrepancies are partially but not exclusively due to the addition of advertisers targeting state-level races. We are working on a process to report these discrepancies, but the totals reflected in this release are current as of 2/25/20, the day on which we pulled the transparency report. Table B (linked to below) reports these discrepancies as they relate to our previous press release. Google only includes spending in federal and state races and only includes weekly totals but lists the sponsor’s EIN or FEC committee ID. We searched the list of advertisers for presidential candidates and affiliated leadership PACs and joint-fund-raising committees. We made the same assumption as with the Facebook data about any spending from House and Senate campaign committees by declared presidential candidates. Google spending is from 1/6/19 through 2/22/20.

In Table B (click here to download), we list the advertiser name for all entries used in this report to calculate Google candidate totals.

About This Report

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 (QAC) – 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 personnel include Laura Baum (Project Manager), Colleen Bogucki (Project Coordinator), Pavel Oleinikov (Associate Director, QAC), and Courtney Page-Tan (Post-Doctoral Fellow).

The Wesleyan Media Project is supported by Wesleyan University,
the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Democracy Fund. 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,,
(860) 685-3813 or (203) 644-7144

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

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.

About Democracy Fund
Created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, Democracy Fund is a foundation helping to ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Democracy Fund has invested more than $125 million in support of a healthy, resilient, and diverse democracy with a particular focus on modern elections, effective governance, and a vibrant public square.