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More than $1 Billion Spent in Democratic Nomination Campaign, 30% on Digital


(MIDDLETOWN, CT) March 11, 2020 – Voters in four states with large numbers of delegates (Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio) will cast presidential primary ballots on March 17. Spending on television ads in these states during the past week (between March 4 and 8) was around $6.5 million (Table 1). Sanders spent $2.6 million on ads in these four states, while Biden topped $1.6 million. There was also some advertising from Michael Bloomberg, who dropped out of the race on March 4, and Elizabeth Warren, who ended her campaign on March 5. Bloomberg’s $2.1 million in Table 1 were mostly ads that aired on March 4 and 5, just as he was suspending his campaign. His ad operation was so extensive that these ads likely aired because they could not be pulled off the air fast enough.

As of March 8, Sanders was on the air in Arizona while Biden was not. Sanders also had a slight advertising advantage in Florida, Illinois and Ohio media markets. These numbers in total pale in comparison to the effort Bloomberg put into Super Tuesday states, where he spent $161 million in those states’ markets, airing over 260,000 spots.

Table 1: Candidate TV Spending by Market in States with March 17 Nomination Event (3/4/20 to 3/8/20)

MarketStateAiringsSpend ($)Biden ($)Bloomberg ($)Sanders ($)Warren ($)
Yuma-El CentroAZ14004000
Ft. MyersFL524203,24044,45098,74060,0500
Panama CityFL312,42002,42000
West Palm BeachFL421220,17048,95078,60092,6200
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between March 4 and March 8, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media

Spending in the six states whose voters cast ballots on March 10 was similar in magnitude, with Biden spending $1.2 million and Sanders spending $1.7 million during that same March 4-8 time period (Table 2). Biden was off the air in Idaho, North Dakota, and Washington, while Sanders spent about $40,000 in Idaho, $70,000 in North Dakota and $330,000 in Washington. Biden had a very small lead in ad spending over Sanders in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi—three states Biden won on March 10.

Table 2: Candidate TV Spending by Market in States with March 10 Nomination Event (3/4/20 to 3/8/20)

MarketStateAiringsSpend ($)Biden ($)Bloomberg ($)Sanders ($)Warren ($)
Idaho Falls-PocatelloID37318,60001,2807,7709,550
Twin FallsID41520,22001,95011,3906,880
Grand RapidsMI1,116318,670112,04061,800112,09032,740
Traverse CityMI75096,75031,13019,17034,56011,890
Kansas CityMO1,019449,210138,43052,590143,62042,310
St LouisMO1,094558,360173,26086,870164,57058,520
St. JosephMO477,64001,40006,240
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between March 4 and March 8, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Biden was helped slightly by Unite the Country, a Super PAC that spent $320,000 this past week in support of his candidacy (Table 3). AB PAC, an anti-Trump super PAC, spent over $400,000 this past week on ads in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Another super PAC, Priorities USA Action, also weighed in with $285,000 worth of anti-Trump ads in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the Healthcare Education Project aired anti-Trump ads in New York State that also featured Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Table 3: TV Ad Airings and Spending by Sponsor (3/4/20 to 3/8/20)

SponsorAiringsSpend ($)
Bloomberg, Michael4,3764,906,980
Sanders, Bernie13,6384,437,700
Biden, Joe7,3982,962,430
Warren, Elizabeth2,419688,910
AB PAC536416,370
Unite the Country311321,430
Priorities USA Action547285,860
Healthcare Education Project475274,850
Trump, Donald149136,250
Klobuchar, Amy7910
Persist Pac2870
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between
March 4 and March 8, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

Broadcast and National Cable Ad Spending Passes $700 Million

With the departure of Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg from the race, ad spending should slow significantly. Through March 8, 2020, candidates for president spent over $700 million on broadcast television ads, as shown in Table 4, with Steyer and Bloomberg accounting for over $600 million. To date, Sanders has spent three times as much as Joe Biden on television ads. Biden’s total is even less (by a small amount) than Elizabeth Warren’s, who also dropped out of the race.

“The ad spending of Bloomberg and Steyer show the possibilities and limits of political advertising,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Bloomberg’s ads clearly made him a contender in many Super Tuesday contests, but his poor debate performances blunted the capacity of those ads to vault him into front-runner status. And Steyer’s spending makes clear that ads can only take you so far.”

Table 4: TV Ad Airings and Spending by Candidates (since Jan. 2019)

SponsorAiringsSpend ($)
Bloomberg, Michael517,644450,553,850
Steyer, Tom286,436151,895,130
Sanders, Bernie94,49131,699,020
Biden, Joe32,92910,204,300
Warren, Elizabeth30,79010,225,710
Buttigieg, Pete27,84913,361,180
Yang, Andrew26,6448,850,190
Klobuchar, Amy22,5447,283,440
Trump, Donald5,05517,694,090
Gabbard, Tulsi4,9231,542,370
Gillibrand, Kirsten2,7881,075,750
Bennet, Michael1,649901,650
Delaney, John1,431507,720
Harris, Kamala810401,050
Bullock, Steve809402,650
Booker, Cory447113,480
Sestak, Joe10357,000
Castro, Julian5027,800
Matern, Matt2619,700
Delaney, John840,000
Gravel, Mike57,700
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television, syndication and national cable
between January 1, 2019, and March 8, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Table 5 shows ad airings and spending by outside groups in the presidential race. Groups accounted for nearly $32 million in spending, about 5 percent of the candidate total. Persist PAC spent the most, airing 12,000 ads over a two week period in Nevada, South Carolina, and many Super Tuesday states. Persist PAC supported Elizabeth Warren for president and out-spent the super PAC supporting Joe Biden—Unite the Country—by 2 to 1.

“We will likely start to see an increase in outside group spending,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Now that Bloomberg is out of the race, he has suggested that he will spend heavily through a Super PAC to support the Democratic nominee. If his campaign spending is any indication, we can expect a lot of outside group ads, with Republicans counter-mobilizing to support Trump.”

Table 5: TV Ad Airings and Spending by Groups (since Jan. 2019)

SponsorAiringsSpend ($)
Persist PAC12,04111,737,450
Unite The Country5,0714,709,890
AB PAC2,8932,672,420
DMFI PAC1,8351,028,210
Kitchen Table Conversations1,8311,516,780
Priorities USA Action1,675956,110
Ab Foundation975753,320
Act Now On Climate786776,210
Reason To Believe PAC499769,300
Healthcare Education Project483283,130
Committee To Defend The President422509,260
Senate Leadership Fund327102,190
United We Win Super PAC266203,380
Need To Impeach66926,050
National Biodiesel Board4331,930
Math PAC40144,810
Judicial Crisis Network401,059,990
Shining City Upon A Hill3244,460
Club For Growth Action2247,580
Demand Justice1261,820
Defend American Democracy10113,550
Planned Parenthood Action Fund8253,030
Club For Growth514,800
Tax March42,940
Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund433,600
The Biosimilars Forum324,290
Democratic Coalition18,200
Republicans For The Rule Of Law14,990
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television, syndication and national cable
between January 1, 2019, and March 8, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Digital Ad Spending Tops $300 Million

Spending on digital ads in the presidential race has risen to just over $300 million as of March 8. Candidates, leadership PACs and single-candidate super PACs have spent over $177 million on Facebook/Instagram ads and another $123 million on ads on Google ads (including YouTube).

Table 6 shows digital spending by sponsor and platform since January 2019 and since February 23, 2020 , the date of our last report. Michael Bloomberg’s $126 million in spending on Facebook and Google constitutes 42 percent of total candidate and single-candidate SuperPAC spending. By contrast, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has spent $19.7 million digital ads, while Biden’s campaign has spent $11.4 million.

Since February 23, however, Biden’s digital campaign spending eclipsed that of Sanders, $4.7 million v. $3.9 million

Table 6: Digital Ad Spending on Facebook and Google

(since Jan 2019)
(since Feb 23)
(since Jan 2019)
(since Feb 23)
FB + Google
(since Jan 2019)
FB + Google
(since Feb 23)
Unite the Country
Need to Impeach
Great America PAC
Figures come from the Facebook ad library reports and the Google Transparency Report. Spending covers the January 6, 2019 or
February 24, 2020, to March 8, 2020, period for Facebook and the January 6, 2019 or February 24, 2020, to March 7, 2020 period
for 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—and groups that did not air presidential-related ads in the past month
but did earlier—are not listed in this table.
See “About the Data” section at the end of this report for more information on our methodology.

TV Dominates Ad Spending, But Candidate Strategies Differ

Looking across all media (including local cable and satellite TV along with radio), over $1 billion dollars has been spent on advertising by Trump and the eight Democratic candidates listed in Table 7. Candidate strategies for paid media outreach differ in the relative focus on television versus digital. Trump is all-in on digital, with nearly half of his spending occurring on Facebook and another quarter on Google.

“While much attention has been given to Bloomberg and Steyer’s overall spending, the Trump campaign ranks third overall, outspending Sanders slightly and Biden by nearly $40 million,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Trump’s campaign has so far devoted 70 percent of its paid media budget to online platforms while Sanders, by contrast, has spent nearly two-thirds of his advertising budget on TV.”

Table 7: Total Spending Across Mediums (since Jan. 2019)

SponsorTotal Spent ($)% FB% Google% All TV*% Radio
Bloomberg, Michael642,492,65810.39.375.64.7
Steyer, Tom205,167,35511.04.379.25.5
Trump, Donald62,791,02245.125.629.10.2
Sanders, Bernie60,159,92220.312.466.41.0
Buttigieg, Pete36,061,98424.320.754.10.9
Warren, Elizabeth27,195,33331.517.450.70.4
Biden, Joe23,456,96028.819.947.83.5
Klobuchar, Amy16,909,78816.414.968.20.4
Gabbard, Tulsi5,501,19121.138.534.75.7
Table Total1,079,736,21314.610.570.84.1
Spending covers January 1, 2019, and March 8, 2020, period for TV and radio figures; January 6, 2019, to March 8, 2020,
period for Facebook and the January 6, 2019, to March 7, 2020, period for Google. *Television percentages in this
table include local cable and satellite TV spending along with national cable and broadcast TV.

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 3/8/20 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 3/8/20 total to get the spending by page and disclaimer for 1/6/19 through 3/8/20. 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 3/10/20, 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 3/7/20.

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

CORRECTION: A prior version of this report inadvertently left off the Chicago and Champaign, Illinois media markets in Table 1, which also affected the total spending reported for the four March 17 primary states (it was $6.5 million rather than $5.3 million) as well as the candidate total spending in those states (Sanders spent $2.6 million rather than $2.1 million and Biden spent $1.6 million rather than $1.2 million as previously reported).

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.

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.