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Dems talk abortion,
while GOP looks to change the narrative;
Outside Groups Invest Heavily

(MIDDLETOWN, CT) August 11, 2022 – Over two million ads (at a cost of nearly one billion dollars) have aired on broadcast television in federal and gubernatorial races across the country between January 6, 2021, and August 7, 2022, according to a new report by the Wesleyan Media Project. Overall, the volume of ads is up 25.5 percent over the volume of ads during the same period in the 2018 election cycle with larger increases coming from federal contests compared to gubernatorial ones.

Outside groups have been especially active in federal contests, sponsoring nearly half of all pro-Republican ad airings in U.S. House (47 percent) and U.S. Senate (49 percent) races as shown in Table 1. Outside groups have also been active on the Democratic side, accounting for 43 percent of airings in U.S. House races and 39 percent of airings in U.S. Senate races. Television advertising in gubernatorial contests, on the other hand, has been driven more by candidate-sponsored airings.  Across all races, group-sponsored ads are up 64.8 percent over the previous midterm election cycle.

Overall, pro-Republican ads have outnumbered pro-Democratic ads in race for governor and U.S. Senate, perhaps a reflection of the large numbers of competitive primary races on the Republican side.  In race for the U.S. House, pro-Republican ads slightly outnumber pro-Democratic ads, though spending in support of Democratic candidates is slightly higher.

Table 1: Cycle-to-Date Spending in Gubernatorial and Congressional Races

GOVERNORCandidatesPartyCoordinated*GroupsTotal
DemocratsAirings222,36718,00118,58986,723345,680
% airings64.3%5.2%5.4%25.1%
Cost (in $Ms)110.916.07.740.2174.9
RepublicansAirings464,3377,93314,39269,644556,306
% airings83.5%1.4%2.6%12.5%
Cost (in $Ms)162.16.37.445.3221.1
U.S. HOUSECandidatesPartyCoordinated*GroupsTotal
DemocratsAirings113,434920086,370200,724
% airings56.5%0.5%0.0%43.0%
Cost (in $Ms)36.50.6065.9102.9
RepublicansAirings111,35092,88499,901214,144
% spots52.0%0.0%1.3%46.7%
Cost (in $Ms)35.800.459.595.7
U.S. SENATECandidatesPartyCoordinated*GroupsTotal
DemocratsAirings173,6281340109,941283,703
% airings61.2%0.0%0.0%38.8%
Cost (in $Ms)86.40070.2156.5
RepublicansAirings189,01517,8549,186204,344420,399
% airings45.0%4.2%2.2%48.6%
Cost (in $Ms)79.316.95.4138.5240.0
TOTALCandidatesPartyCoordinated*GroupsTotal
Airings1,274,13144,85145,051656,9232,020,956
Cost (in $Ms)510.939.721.0419.6991.2
Airings (2018)1,176,62428,9675,872398,6021,610,065
% change8.3%54.8%667.2%64.8%25.5%
*For Gov races, some coordinated spots are b/w candidates and groups.
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022. Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

August Primaries Spotlight by State and Office

Thirteen states have held or will hold primary elections in the first half of August, including five held on August 2 (Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington), one on August 4 (Tennessee), four this week on August 9 (Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin), one scheduled for August 13 (Hawaii), and two scheduled for August 16 (Alaska and Wyoming).  Through each primary date (if before August 7) or up to August 7 in the other states, over 445,000 ads aired on broadcast television stations, totaling over $234 million in spending.  Most of this spending was for the primary election races in those states, but some was early general election spending in states where there was no competitive primary for a political party.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona See Heavy Gubernatorial Advertising

Table 2 breaks down ad spending by state and party in states with early August gubernatorial primaries, and Table 3 provides further detail on the type of spending in each state.  There was particularly heavy advertising for the competitive Republican primaries in Wisconsin (44,549 total airings, 33,089 of which were pro-Republican), Michigan (30,215 airings, 23,623 of which were pro-Republican) and Arizona (25,098 airings, 20,837 were pro-Republican).

Table 2: Airings and Spending in Governor Primary Races

StatePro-DemPro-RepTotal
Airings
Est. Cost
(in Ms)
WI9,34133,08944,549$22.5
MI6,59223,62330,215$12.6
AZ4,26120,83725,098$16.0
KS9,6435,17314,816$8.1
CT5,9724,98010,952$4.6
HI3,3191353,454$1.4
AK3180853$0.1
MN74728775$0.5
WY0489489$0.03
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022 (or primary Election Day if earlier).
Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Wisconsin, the GOP race to take on incumbent Democratic governor Tony Evers was close.  Businessman Tim Michels, who is backed by Trump and won’t say whether he would certify the next presidential election, edged out former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch with 47 percent of the vote to 42 percent of the vote.  Over $14 million was spent in the GOP primary race through August 7.  Michels out-advertised Kleefisch (16,700 spots to 6,800).  Eight outside groups sponsored ads in the contest, including Fighting for Wisconsin PAC (which aired over 3,000 ads for candidate Kevin Nicholson before he withdrew from the race) and the WMC Issue Mobilization Council, which attacked Democrat Tony Evers with nearly 4,000 spots.  Evers, with no primary opposition, spent nearly $3.5 million on ads over 7,000 spots touting his efforts in office.

The result of the GOP gubernatorial primary in Michigan was not as close as in Wisconsin, but spending still totaled over $9 million.  Tudor Dixon (who is endorsed by former President Trump and denies Biden’s 2020 victory) won the primary with 40 percent of the vote, with three other candidates getting between 15 and 20 percent.  Dixon’s campaign spent no money on TV ads, while opponent Kevin Rinke sponsored nearly 12,000 spots costing $4 million.  He got 21 percent of the vote in the primary.  Five outside groups aired ads in the race, including Michigan Families United (a super PAC that sponsored 2,200 spots backing Dixon) and Put Michigan First, which aired over 1,500 spots attacking Dixon.

In the open race for Arizona governor, each party held primaries, but advertising was heavier on the Republican side with 20,837 airings compared to only 4,261 for Democrats.  Although Democrats overwhelmingly voted for the current Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, there was about $2 million in spending in the race.  In the closer GOP primary, Trump-backed Kari Lake, who falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen, edged out Karrin Taylor Robson (who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence) by 20,000 votes out of over 700,000 cast.  Lake barely spent any money on television ads (about $800,000 for 900 spots), compared to Taylor Robson, who spent nearly $12 million on 17,000 broadcast television spots.  A small amount of group spending supported both candidates, but those ads aired earlier in the summer.

Table 3: Airings and Spending in Governor Primary Races by Party Lean and Sponsor Type

StateSponsorParty LeanAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
AKCandidateDemocrat318$0.05
AKCandidateOther535$0.07
AZCandidateDemocrat3,060$1.4
AZGroupDemocrat1,201$0.57
AZCandidateRepublican19,084$12.9
AZGroupRepublican1,753$1.1
CTCandidateDemocrat4,984$1.8
CTGroupDemocrat988$0.55
CTCandidateRepublican4,503$1.9
CTGroupRepublican477$0.35
HICandidateDemocrat3,201$1.4
HIGroupDemocrat118$0.05
HICandidateRepublican135$0.04
KSCandidateDemocrat3,082$0.89
KSGroupDemocrat6,561$3.6
KSGroupRepublican1,251$0.85
KSPartyRepublican3,922$2.7
MICandidateDemocrat4,893$1.2
MIGroupDemocrat1,699$1.9
MICandidateRepublican19,116$7.1
MIGroupRepublican4,507$2.4
MNCandidateDemocrat735$0.48
MNGroupDemocrat12$0.004
MNGroupRepublican28$0.01
WICandidateDemocrat7,759$3.5
WIGroupDemocrat1,413$1.2
WIPartyDemocrat169$0.08
WIGroupOther2,119$2.1
WICandidateRepublican23,562$8.8
WIGroupRepublican9,527$6.8
WYCandidateRepublican489$0.03
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022 (or primary Election Day if earlier).
Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Of course, there is spending in many other states, as well.  For example, in Connecticut, incumbent Democratic Governor Ned Lamont is running for re-election in a rematch with Republican Bob Stefanowski who lost narrowly in 2018 and is running uncontested in the Republican primary. As such, advertising has heated up early aimed at the general election. Lamont has aired nearly 5,000 ads on broadcast TV (this report does not cover local cable advertising or future reserved air time) with additional support from Stronger CT (988 airings), which is funded by the Democratic Governors’ Association. Stefanowski has aired just over 4,500 broadcast ads trailing Lamont’s total slightly through August 7, with two outside groups CT Truth PAC and Advancing CT, which is funded by the Republican Governors’ Association, providing additional support (with 39 and 438 airings respectively).

August Senate Primaries

Table 4 shows advertising and spending in August Senate primary elections during the first few weeks, and Table 5 provides further detail by sponsor type.  There has been substantial advertising in Arizona (86,290 total airings), in Wisconsin (78,787 airings, the majority of which were from the Democratic primary), and in Missouri (31,654 airings, the majority of which were in the Republican primary).

“Voters in Wisconsin and Arizona are likely already bleary-eyed from the ad blitz,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “In congressional races and in gubernatorial primary contests, voters in Wisconsin have already seen over 125,000 spots. In Arizona, it is just over 123,000. And the general election is just getting started.”

Table 4: Airings and Spending in U.S. Senate Primary Races

StatePro-DemPro-RepTotal AiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
AZ41,35544,93586,290$46.1
WI52,74026,04778,787$42.9
MO7,99522,37031,654$19.7
WA6,3032,3458,648$3.0
CT2,1202,0474,167$1.3
AK1,0872,6663,753$1.5
VT2,1992392,438$0.5
KS0830830$0.1
HI7820782$0.2
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022 (or primary Election Day if earlier).
Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Arizona specifically, Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly is vying for a full term (his election in 2020 was a special election to complete a term), and his campaign and pro-Democratic groups (14 in total) spent nearly $20 million on over 40,000 spots through August 2.  This spending was intended to bolster his general election campaign.  Kelly started airing ads in February of 2022, and some supportive groups were on the air touting his accomplishments as early as May 2021.

On the Republican side, the competitive primary saw nearly 45,000 airings at a cost of over $17 million in TV ad spending from a number of candidates and a dozen outside groups.  Blake Masters, a tech start-up entrepreneur who was endorsed by Donald Trump, won the primary with 39 percent of the vote, besting businessman Jim Lamon (29 percent) and Mark Brnovich (18 percent).  Masters spent only $1.5 million on about 1,800 spots compared to over 12,000 spots costing $7.6 million from Lamon.  The most active outside group in the race was Saving Arizona PAC, which spent over $7 million on over 12,000 spots between October 2021 and the primary election.  The group attacked Brnovich and Lamon and promoted Masters.

Table 5: Airings and Spending in U.S. Senate Primary Races by Party Lean and Sponsor Type

StateSponsorParty LeanAiringsEst. Cost
(in Ms)
AKGroupDemocrat1,087$0.23
AKCandidateRepublican1,511$0.32
AKGroupRepublican1,155$0.91
AZCandidateDemocrat13,096$6.1
AZGroupDemocrat28,259$13.2
AZCandidateRepublican15,031$9.5
AZGroupRepublican23,044$12.9
AZPartyRepublican6,860$4.3
CTCandidateDemocrat2,120$0.49
CTCandidateRepublican1,081$0.29
CTGroupRepublican966$0.50
HICandidateDemocrat691$0.24
HIGroupDemocrat91$0.009
KSCandidateRepublican372$0.02
KSGroupRepublican458$0.09
MOCandidateDemocrat7,729$3.7
MOGroupDemocrat266$0.18
MOGroupOTHER1,289$2.6
MOCandidateRepublican6,789$2.2
MOGroupRepublican15,581$11.0
VTCandidateDemocrat979$0.31
VTGroupDemocrat1,220$0.11
VTCandidateRepublican239$0.04
WACandidateDemocrat5,737$1.8
WAGroupDemocrat566$0.53
WACandidateRepublican2,128$0.57
WAGroupRepublican217$0.07
WICandidateDemocrat25,885$11.4
WIGroupDemocrat26,723$17.1
WIPartyDemocrat132$0.01
WICandidateRepublican9,188$3.7
WICandidate and PartyRepublican4,648$2.6
WIGroupRepublican12,211$8.0
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022 (or primary Election Day if earlier).
Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Wisconsin, a crowded Democratic field of candidates racked up 25,885 airings in their quest to gain the Senate nomination and to unseat incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, a staunch Trump ally who tried to deliver fake electors for Wisconsin and Michigan to Mike Pence on January 6. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who secured the nomination after his main contenders withdrew, sponsored 5,090 airings and got support from the outside group Courageous Leaders PAC for another 1,290 airings, some of which attacked Ron Johnson in addition to promoting Barnes. Alex Lasry aired 14,685 ad airings to Sarah Godlewski’s 5,443, with Tom Nelson running 540. Eight additional pro-Democratic outside groups – Democracy for All 2021 Action, Majority Forward, Meidas Touch, MoveOn.org, Opportunity Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Senate Majority PAC, Tax March — were responsible for another 26,723 airings attacking Senator Ron Johnson. On the Republican side, Johnson has sponsored 9,188 television ads to date and aired another 4,648 in coordination with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Pro-Republican outside groups One Nation (4,936 airings) and Wisconsin Truth PAC (7,275 airings) have also been on air defending Johnson.

In Missouri, there were competitive elections in both parties for the open Senate seat in the state.  In total, there was $20 million spent by candidates and outside groups on over 30,000 ad airings.  On the Democratic side, the air war was predominantly between Trudy Busch Valentine, who won the primary with 43 percent of the vote, and Lucas Kunce, who got 38 percent of the vote. Busch Valentine, who comes from the family that started Anheuser-Busch, spent nearly $3 million on about 6,000 airings between the end of June and Election Day.  Kunce, who is an attorney, aired just 1,800 ads costing $730,00.

On the Republican side, Eric Schmitt, the current Attorney General in the state, won with 44 percent of the vote, besting Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (23 percent) and former Governor Eric Greitens (20 percent).  Greitens aired no television ads in the race (though his online RINO hunting ad garnered much media attention), while Hartzler sponsored over 4,000.  Schmitt spent just $400,000 on 650 spots.

The real story of the race, however, is the nearly 16,000 spots that aired from eight outside groups, costing over $11 million.  One group, Show Me Values PAC, out-aired and out-spent all other sponsors in both parties, including candidates.  The group sponsored nearly 6,000 spots costing about $4 million.  The ads attacked Greitens for alleged child abuse and sexual assaults against his ex-wife.  Save Missouri Values sponsored over 4,900 spots totaling $3.5 million that supported Schmitt and attacked Hartzler and Greitens.

In other contests on the Senate side, the Connecticut Republican contest for the nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Dick Blumenthal featured an upset as Leora Levy, with a late Trump-endorsement, skated to victory over the moderate, state party-endorsed favorite and former state House Republican leader Themis Klarides 50 to 40 percent (yet a third candidate, Peter Lumaj, who also supports Trump, finished with nearly 10 percent of the vote). In the run-up to the GOP primary on August 9, Levy ran 749 broadcast airings through August 7 compared to Klarides’ 332. Although Klarides had support from Leadership Now (966 airings worth), only 226 of those attacked Levy. Lumaj ran no television advertising. On the Democratic side, Blumenthal has aired 2,000 broadcast ads in early general election spending (like Lamont, he was unopposed in the primary).

Over 10K Ads Aired in the Republican House Primary in Wyoming

One primary race of note on the House side is the GOP primary challenge to Liz Cheney in Wyoming.  Over 10,000 ads have aired in the state to the tune of $1.5 million.  Cheney has sponsored nearly 3,000 spots, a bit less than one opponent, Harriet Hageman, who has sponsored 3,600.  Hageman has led in recent polls and has the endorsement of former President Trump.  Three groups have aired ads in the race: Americans Keeping Country First (which has attacked Hageman), Club for Growth (promoting Hageman), and Wyoming Values (attacking Cheney and promoting Hageman).

Kansas Abortion Vote

Advertising was heavy in Kansas prior to the state’s vote on August 2 to uphold abortion protections in the state’s constitution.  There were 12,831 ad airings on the issue, with ads favoring the “no” side (to maintain the legal precedent that the Kansas Bill of Rights contains a right to abortion) outpacing ads favoring the “yes” side (which proposed to amend the state constitution to say there is no abortion right and grant authority to the legislature to pass abortion laws).  Specifically, there were 5,368 airings that advocated changing the state constitution to remove protections for abortion rights, and there were 7,463 airings in favor of the status quo under which abortion rights are protected.

One group, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, aired ads opposing the change to current abortion protections, while four groups advocated for removing such protections from the state constitution: Value Them Both, Kansans for Life, Restoration Action and Kansas Family Voice.  These groups sponsored 24 unique ads, whose content we analyzed.  Table 6 shows various words and phrases and the frequency with which they appeared in the “support” (change the constitution) and “opposition” (keep the status quo) ads.

The opposition ads typically did not reference the ballot measure by name (the “Value Them Both” measure) but referred more generically to a “constitutional amendment” or similar.  These opposition ads also often mentioned rape, incest or life of the mother, would talk about a “total ban” on abortion, and referred to government overreach or government mandates in four out of every ten ads.  By contrast, the support ads would refer to a record number of abortions and employ dramatic statistics, such as a 1000% increase in abortions.  They also commonly mentioned “late-term” abortions and referred to Joe Biden and “radical left” leaders.

Table 6: Content of Ads on Kansas Abortion Vote

 Support Measure (to amend
state constitution and give the
legislature authority to pass
laws on abortion)
Oppose Measure (to
maintain the legal precedent
that provides a right to
abortion)
Ad contains# of
unique
ads
# of
airings
% of
airings
# of
unique
ads
# of
airings
% of
airings
“Constitutional amendment”000%127,463100%
“Value Them Both” ballot name115,09394.9%198413.2%
“Government mandate”000%53,06141%
“Government overreach”000%73,17842.6%
Life/safety of mother000%96,16382.6%
Rape or incest000%75,75577.1%
Out-of-state/"abortion
destination"
31,47927.6%000%
Late-term or dismemberment
abortions
104,62686.2%14215.6%
Common sense63,52465.6%000%
Tax dollars62,33943.6%192112.3%
Unlimited abortion rights51,68631.4%000%
Full ban on abortion21,29924.2%86,14482.3%
Biden/Radical left/Dem leaders72,58548.2%000%
Ads aired between June 14, 2022 and August 2, 2022.
Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Although Common, Attacks on Biden Not Record Breaking; Trump Still an Outlier

Midterm elections are often thought of as a referendum on the incumbent president, and assessments of the current president’s record are often used in advertising – sometimes to praise his accomplishments but more often to attack his record. As shown in Figure 1, advertising in the 2022 midterms is no exception, with one in five federal ads containing an attack on President Biden.

“While much media attention has been given to Biden’s low approval ratings, attacks on Biden in advertising are not necessarily unusual or more prominent than prior cycles,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Biden is attacked more frequently in midterm advertising this cycle than Obama was during his first term, but he is not featured as negatively as Obama was in his second midterm.”

The tone of Biden mentions in midterm advertising falls predictably along partisan lines with more than one-third of all pro-Republican federal airings attacking the incumbent president and fewer than one percent of pro-Democratic ads doing the same.

Former presidents, also shown in Figure 1, typically are featured infrequently in midterm advertising, but when they do appear, they tend to be attacked more than they are promoted. Yet positive references to Trump have increased in 2022 compared to this same period in the 2018 cycle.

Figure 1. Incumbents and Predecessor Presidential References in Federal Ads by Tone and Cycle

CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Click here to download the data used in this figure.

Divergent Strategies on Abortion Discussion in U.S. Senate Ads

Turning to the issue discussion in television advertising since the last Wesleyan Media Project press release (covering the period from June 20 through August 7, 2022), we find that the issue emphasis in pro-Democratic advertising and pro-Republican advertising in U.S. Senate contests is markedly different. While 14 percent of ads by or on behalf of Democratic candidates mentioned abortion in the May 9 to June 19 time period, nearly one in four ads since that time have mentioned the topic.  Thus, abortion is the top issue mention in pro-Democratic Senate ads for the U.S. (see Table 7). Ads on the Republican side mentioning abortion meanwhile took a nosedive from 19 percent in the earlier period to 6 percent between June 20 and August 7, well out of the top ten topics.

“While ads for Democratic Senate candidates have embraced abortion as an issue since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision was released on June 24, ads for Republican Senate candidates have worked hard to change the topic to something else,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Aside from abortion, pro-Democratic senatorial ads continue to talk about the economy (19.6 percent), health care (19.1 percent), jobs (18.8 percent) and inflation (15.4 percent), all of which were in the top five topics previously. They have also added discussion of the Supreme Court (14.4 percent).

Pro-Republican airings in the prior period were focused most on immigration and public safety, and while those topics remain in the top six, discussion of energy and the environment (39.8 percent) and the economy (38.2 percent) along with inflation (36.2 percent) and the budget (32.4 percent) have overtaken the issue agenda.

Table 7: Top Issues in U.S. Senate Races by Party Lean (June 20 – August 7)

IssuePro-Dem %IssuePro-Rep %
Abortion24.0%Energy/Environment39.8%
Economy19.6%Economy38.2%
Healthcare19.1%Inflation36.2%
Jobs18.8%Budget32.4%
Inflation15.4%Immigration22.9%
Supreme Court14.4%Public Safety18.3%
Taxes14.2%Taxes14.5%
Public Safety14.0%Food/Agriculture12.3%
Budget13.1%International Affairs10.7%
Prescription Drugs12.9%China8.9%
Figures are from June 20 to August 7, 2022. Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Abortion for Dems, Budget for Reps as Top Issue in U.S. House Ads

Similar to U.S. Senate, abortion tops the list of topics in pro-Democratic ads for U.S. House contests, occurring in nearly four in ten airings (38.7 percent), an increase from under a third (29.1 percent) in the prior period from May 9 to June 19 (see Table 8). On the Republican side, abortion still makes the top ten topics, but it has also fallen both in rank and percentage from 17.5 percent and seventh in the May 9 to June 19 period to 10.7 percent and ninth in the current one.

Both parties are talking a lot about energy and the environment (24.6 percent of pro-Democratic airings and 29.8 percent of pro-Republican ones). Other top issues in ads favoring Democrats are gun control (22.5 percent), public safety (21.2 percent), and health care (20.5 percent). Notably, voting rights and women’s rights have moved onto the top 10 list since the earlier period.

Ads favoring Republicans are also talking about the economy (28.3 percent), inflation (26.1 percent) along with immigration (22.1 percent) and public safety (21.7 percent).

Table 8: Top Issues in U.S. House Races by Party (June 20 – August 7)

IssuePro-Dem %IssuePro-Rep %
Abortion38.7%Budget33.3%
Energy/Environment24.6%Energy/Environment29.8%
Gun Control/Guns22.5%Economy28.3%
Public safety21.2%Inflation26.1%
Healthcare20.5%Immigration22.1%
Voting Rights17.7%Public Safety21.7%
Jobs17.1%Taxes17.0%
Women's Rights14.0%Gun Control/Guns16.8%
Prescription Drugs11.0%Abortion10.7%
Economy10.0%Education8.5%
Figures are from June 20 to August 7, 2022. Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Education and Abortion for Dems and Public Safety and Taxes for Reps in Gov Contests

Education is the top issue featured in ads by or on behalf of Democratic candidates for gubernatorial offices, appearing in nearly one-third of all pro-Democratic airings (30.4 percent), which is an increase from just 16.8 percent in the earlier period (see Table 9). Discussion of abortion is slightly lower but remains prominent (28.4 percent compared to 33.9 percent previously). Public safety (25.3 percent) and budget issues (25.2 percent) follow.

Public safety and taxes remain the top two talking points for Republicans, though tax discussion in particular has decreased (35.4 percent compared to 43.2 percent in the earlier period). Discussion of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic does not appear in the top 10 topics at all.

Table 9: Top Issues in Governor Races by Party (June 20 – August 7)

IssuePro-Dem %IssuePro-Rep %
Education30.4%Public Safety36.5%
Abortion28.4%Taxes35.4%
Public Safety25.3%Budget28.1%
Budget25.2%Oil20.6%
Taxes23.6%Economy20.1%
Gun Control/Guns22.9%Jobs18.4%
Health care21.1%Campaign Finance17.3%
Economy17.7%Inflation16.5%
Jobs17.1%Immigration16.3%
Inflation11.1%Education12.0%
Figures are from June 20 to August 7, 2022. Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Top Groups

In partnership with OpenSecrets, the Wesleyan Media Project also tracks outside group ad spending by the type of donor disclosure. We classify groups as full-disclosure groups (meaning they disclose contributor lists to the relevant reporting agency at the federal or state level), non-disclosing dark money groups (which are not required to disclose publicly their donors; these are most often 501c4 non-profits), and partial-disclosure groups (those that disclose donors but also accept contributions from dark money sources).

In Table 10, we list the top 30 groups airings ads in the cycle to date.  We list not only the disclosure type but the organization type from federal or state records, as ascertained by OpenSecrets.  For more information on group types, see the information on disclosure rules from OpenSecrets.

The group with the most ads aired cycle-to-date was one active last fall in the recall election of California Governor Gavin Newsom.  But closing in on the top spot, and likely soon to take it, is Club for Growth Action, which has been active mostly in congressional contests.  American Action Network takes the third spot, with over 26,000 ads in House races.

Table 10: Top Groups in Gubernatorial and Congressional Races in the Cycle

 Total
Airings
Senate
Airings
House
Airings
Gov spotsDisclose
Donors?
Org Type
Stop The Republican Recall of Governor Newsom44,7810044,781yState IE Comm.
Club For Growth Action36,37727,9227,3001,155pSuperPAC
American Action Network26,104026,1040n501c
One Nation24,90824,90800n501c
Majority Forward22,26122,26100n501c
United Democracy Project16,370016,3700pSuperPAC
Honor Pennsylvania14,47514,47500ySuperPAC
Computer And Communications Industry Association12,83812,83800n501c
Saving Arizona PAC12,22612,22600ySuperPAC
Senate Majority PAC11,18511,18500n501c
Alabama Patriots PAC10,74910,74900pSuperPAC
American Dream Federal Action10,6914,1166,5750yCarey
League Of Conservation Voters10,3566,0084,3480n501c
Protect Ohio Values PAC10,27610,27600yCarey
Protect Our Future PAC9,97209,9720yCarey
Fair Fight Action9,49349708,996p501c
Women Vote8,8683,2525,6160pSuperPAC
Opportunity Wisconsin8,0518,05100n501c
House Majority Forward7,45507,4550n501c
Wisconsin Truth PAC7,2757,27500ySuperPAC
School Freedom Fund6,9302,6244,3060ySuperPAC
Kansas Values Institute6,910006,910n501c
Common Sense Leadership Fund6,3311,2075,1240n501c
Conservative Outsider PAC6,2253,6202,6050ySuperPAC
A Stronger Nevada6,082006,082pState PAC
USA Freedom Fund6,0675,3766910pSuperPAC
Alabama Rino PAC5,9795,97900ySuperPAC
Show Me Values PAC5,9085,90800YSuperPAC
End Citizens United & Let America Vote Action Fund5,8945,89400yPAC
Alabama Conservatives Fund5,7445,74400ySuperPAC
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022. Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
Disclosure classifications and organization type are from OpenSecrets.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Dark Money Makes Up 67% of Pro-Dem Ads in Senate

Table 11 shows the sponsorship of advertising by race and party.  In races for governor, full disclosure is typical, especially among groups that back Democratic candidates.  But full disclosure is less common in races for the U.S. Senate.  In fact, only 20.9 percent of the pro-Democratic ad airings were from groups that fully disclose their donors, and 67 percent of pro-Democratic ads were from groups that provide no disclosure at all.

“The rapid rise of outside spending over the past decade shows no sign of slowing down in 2022, and dark money continues to play a major role,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of OpenSecrets.

U.S. House races, up to this point, have featured a mix of full, partial and “dark money” groups, with only minor differences between Democratic and Republican groups, though pro-Democratic group ads are disproportionately more from dark money sources.

Table 11: Ad Airings on Behalf of Democrats and Republicans

 FullPartialNoneTotal
GOVERNOR
Pro-Dem57,89412,07116,75886,723
row %66.8%13.9%19.3%
Pro-GOP32,75912,22424,66169,644
row %47.0%17.6%35.4%
U.S. SENATE
Pro-Dem22,99712,84374,101109,941
row %20.9%11.7%67.4%
Pro-GOP113,42154,10736,816204,344
row %55.5%26.5%18.0%
U.S. HOUSE
Pro-Dem27,17024,38934,81186,370
row %31.5%28.2%40.3%
Pro-GOP41,18722,59736,11799,901
row %41.2%22.6%36.2%
TOTALS295,428138,231223,264656,923
45.0%21.0%34.0%
Figures are from January 6, 2021, to August 7, 2022. Numbers include broadcast television for all sponsors.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

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 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, 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 (Associate Director), Breeze Floyd (Research Coordinator), Pavel Oleinikov (Associate Director, QAC), Markus Neumann (Post-Doctoral Fellow), and Jielu Yao (Post-Doctoral Fellow).

Data are provided by Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.  The Wesleyan Media Project is partnering again this year with OpenSecrets, to provide added information on outside group disclosure.

The Wesleyan Media Project’s digital advertising tracking is supported by the contributions of students in Delta Lab, an interdisciplinary research collaborative focusing on computationally-driven and innovative analyses and visualizations of media messaging.

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: media@wesleyan.edu.

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.