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Senate Ads Up 170 Percent; House Ads Up 104 Percent

(MIDDLETOWN, CT) August 13, 2020 – The year 2020 is shaping up to be a banner year for television advertising with huge increases in volume and (to a lesser extent) spending in U.S. House and U.S. Senate races. Since January 1, 2019, over 275,000 ads have aired in markets across the country for U.S. House races, which represents a 104 percent increase over the comparable period in the 2015-2016 election cycle and a 73 percent increase over the 2011-2012 cycle (Table 1). Spending on House advertising is up by 31 percent over the last presidential cycle and by 51 percent over the 2012 cycle.

On the U.S. Senate side a whopping 685,727 ads have aired cycle-to-date, which is a 170 percent increase over the 2015-2016 cycle (spending is up by 19 percent, suggesting that ad dollars are stretching further this year than they were in the previous cycle). If we look just at the period since mid-July, the increase in ad volume is even more dramatic with over 3.5 times the number of U.S. Senate airings on television this year compared to the same period fin 2016.

Click here to see our recent report on the presidential race covering the same time periods.

Table 1: U.S. House and U.S. Senate Ad Volume and Spending by Cycle (Cycle-to-Date and Since July 15)

U.S. HouseCycle-to-Date (through Aug. 9)July 15 - August 9,2020
U.S. SenateCycle-to-Date (through Aug. 9)July 15 - August 9,2020
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1 of the off-year and August 9
of the election year and between July 15 and August 9 of the election year.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Figure 1 shows the number of ad airings in U.S. House races in the current and previous two election cycles. It is clear that 2020 stands out for high ad volumes, especially since June of this year. In late July, for instance, there were over 20,000 ad airings in U.S. House races in a single week, but the peak volume in 2016 was just over 12,000 airings and in 2012 was just of 10,000 airings.

Figure 1: U.S. House Race Airings by Week and Year

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1 of the election year and Aug 9.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Figure 2 depicts the same data for U.S. Senate races. Again, the volume of U.S. Senate ads in 2020 is much higher than in the previous two election years, with that gap growing even wider over time.

“Clearly, television advertising in congressional races is way up in 2020 over the past two election cycles,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “It’s hard to find a definitive reason for the increase, but it could have to do with the expectation that the Senate is up for grabs, or it could be a coronavirus effect. If campaigns can’t spend their money on holding rallies and hiring door-to-door canvassers, then they may have more money to devote to television.”

Figure 2: U.S. Senate Race Airings by Week and Year

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between January 1 of the election year and Aug 9.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Ads Pile Up in GOP House Primaries

Table 2 shows the volume of ads aired in the top House races between July 15 and August 9, 2020. Republican primary contests in Tennessee’s first congressional district and Kansas’s first congressional district are at the top of the list, with over $1 million spend in the former. Other heavily contested races included New York-24, Florida-19 and Minnesota-05.

Table 2: Ad Airings and Spending in U.S. House by Race

DistrictAiringsCost ($)Dem
Cost ($)
Cost ($)
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between July 15 and August 9, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Montana, Kansas Top Senate Races

Table 3 shows television ad airings and spending by party in U.S. Senate races. Montana tops the list, with over 41,000 ad airings starting July 15. Kansas, which saw a heated battle for the Republican nomination, saw $8.6 million of ad spending on 24,600 ad airings since mid-July. Tennessee, which held an August 6 primary, also saw considerable advertising, as did the tossup Senate race in Iowa.

Groups have been particularly involved in certain races. For instance, 74 percent of the pro-Democratic ads in North Carolina’s Senate race have been sponsored by groups.

Table 3: Ad Airings and Spending in U.S. Senate by Race

StateAiringsCost ($)Dem
Cost ($)
Cost ($)
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between July 15 and August 9, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Pandemic Tops Dem House Ads; Reps Talk Taxes, Guns

Table 4 shows the most mentioned issues (the percentage of total ads that mention each issue) in both pro-Democratic and pro-Republican House ads that have aired since mid-July (these percentages include party, outside group and coordinated airings in addition to candidate-sponsored ones). Democrats’ top issue is the COVID pandemic, which appears in 30 percent of their ads. By contrast, the issue is mentioned in just 13 percent of Republicans’ ads. Business, health care and jobs are also mentioned frequently in pro-Democratic ads.

In pro-Republican ads, the most mentioned issues is taxes, which appears in 29 percent of ads, followed by gun control (25 percent) and business (18 percent). Immigration is also frequently mentioned, appearing in 17 percent of Republican House ads.

“Health care continues to be a big focus of federal airings with the exception of pro-Republican ads for U.S. House where it does not make the top ten topics,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “It’s also notable that Medicaid, which typically doesn’t receive a lot of attention in federal campaign ads is being mentioned in one out of every ten airings on pro-Democratic side in U.S. Senate races.”

Table 4: Top Ten Issue Mentions in U.S. House Ads by Party Lean

Pro-Dem House AiringsPro-Rep House Airings
Infectious diseases (COVID-19)30.2%Taxes28.8%
Business29.8%Gun control/guns25.4%
Health care28.8%Business17.7%
Recession/econ stimulus16.0%Protests/riots15.3%
Energy policy13.1%Infectious diseases (COVID-19)12.7%
Veterans10.9%Moral/family/religious values10.4%
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between July 15 and August 9, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Wesleyan Media Project coding of Kantar/CMAG data.

Table 5 provides the same information for U.S. Senate races. On the pro-Democratic side, the top issue is health care, followed by the pandemic, business and jobs. Republicans ads are talking the most about business, taxes, health care and jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic is mentioned in 16 percent of pro-Republican ads. Again, there is a clear party difference in the emphasis placed on the pandemic.

Table 5: Top Ten Issue Mentions in U.S. Senate Ads by Party Lean

Pro-Dem Senate AiringsPro-Rep Senate Airings
Health care45.9%Business27.1%
Infectious diseases (COVID-19)36.4%Taxes24.2%
Business26.2%Health care23.2%
Campaign finance reform14.8%Infectious diseases (COVID-19)15.9%
Health care expansion/access14.3%Abortion13.7%
Prescription drugs12.0%China13.7%
Medicare10.3%Gun control/guns12.7%
Taxes9.9%Economy (generic)12.3%
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between July 15 and August 9, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Wesleyan Media Project coding of Kantar/CMAG data.

Ads for U.S. House and U.S. Senate are also mentioning Trump but in very different ways by party. Whereas 12.6 percent of pro-Democratic ads mention Trump unfavorably, pro-Republican ads are touting the president favorably in one quarter of their airings (25.3 percent). Biden is mentioned in very few pro-Democratic airings (only 225 total, which represent fewer than one percent, all favorably), but four percent of pro-Republican airings (5,608 total) mention Biden unfavorably. Pro-Republican airings also reference former president Barack Obama unfavorably in 3.3 percent of airings and Hillary Clinton unfavorably in 2 percent of airings.

Groups Advertising in Several Senate Races

Outside groups have been very active in Senate campaigns, as Table 6 shows. Majority Forward, the liberal group, has spent $12.7 million in the past four weeks on behalf of Democratic candidates in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina—all states expected to be Senate battlegrounds (they have spent nearly $23.8 million on 40,749 ads across the full cycle). Majority Forward does not disclose its donors. The most active conservative group has been One Nation, which has pumped $8.9 million into ads supporting Republicans in ten different states (they have spent $16.6 million on 25,940 airings across the full cycle). Like Majority Forward, One Nation does not disclose its donors.

“Both parties are guilty of using dark money nonprofits to run thousands of advertisements this election cycle,” says Sarah Bryner, Director of Research and Strategy at the Center for Responsive Politics. “Voters don’t know who is paying for these ads, leaving them unable to consider the credibility and possible motives of the anonymous donors behind these groups.”

Table 6: Group Ad Airings and Spending in Senate Races

SponsorLeanDisclosureAiringsEst. SpendStates
Majority ForwardLno18,91512,688,190CO, GA, IA, ME, MT, NC
One NationCno14,5588,885,780AL, AZ, CO, GA, IA, KS, KY,
Senate Majority PACLpartial10,6175,517,550AZ, CO, IA, ME, MT, NC
Sunflower State OrgLyes5,9742,888,570KS
Duty and HonorLno4,9532,881,840AZ, CO, GA, ME, MI, MT, NC
Club for Growth ActionCyes3,5401,210,010AL
The Lincoln ProjectLyes3,4862,177,510AK, ME, MT
Plains PACLyes3,0511,312,290KS
Montana Federation of Public EmployeesLyes2,8881,060,850MT
Standing with ConservativesCyes2,2131,018,880TN
Senate Leadership FundCyes2,0731,344,720KS
End Citizens UnitedLyes1,897726,830IA
Unite for ColoradoCno1,637828,950CO
Conservative Outsider PACCyes1,600774,190TN
1820 PACCyes1,268912,460ME
Free Forever PACCyes1,201561,580KS
Protect Freedom PACCyes1,177442,040TN
U.S. Chamber of CommerceCno891762,930KS, ME
Advancing AZLno601405,850AZ
Georgia United VictoryCyes481353,890GA
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between July 15 and August 9, 2020. Group disclosure and ideology
classifications provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. “L” indicates that the groups supports liberal/Democratic
candidates, while “C” indicates the group supports conservative/Republican candidates.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Dark Money Half of Congressional Ad Airings

Overall, about half of the spending in U.S. House and U.S. Senate races since mid-July has been from dark money groups—those that do not disclose their donors. Table 7 shows that in House races since July 15, 43 percent of spending and 51 percent of ad airings has been done by groups that do not disclose their donors. The most active dark money organizations in U.S. House races are House Majority Forward, which has spent $1.9 million on 4,199 ad airings during this period and nearly $8.8 million on 14,029 ads cycle-to-date, and American Action Network, which has spent nearly $1 million during on 1,772 ads during this period and over $7 million on 13,450 ads cycle-to-date.

In U.S. Senate races, 53 percent of ad spending and 49 percent of ad airings are from dark money groups.

Table 7: Ad Spending and Airings by Group Disclosure

Est. Spend ($)% SpendAirings% Airings
U.S. HouseFull4,031,89054%5,51944%
U.S. SenateFull17,913,57036%33,09639%
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between July 15 and August 9, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Group disclosure classification provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Senate Dem Challengers Top Digital Ad Spenders

Table 8 shows spending on digital ads by Senate candidate on the two most prominent platforms, Facebook and Google. Since mid-July, Jaime Harrison—a Democrat running in South Carolina—has spent $950,000 on the two platforms, and since early April, Harrison has spent $3.6 million. Another Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly in Arizona, has spent $670,000 on Facebook and Google since mid-July, while challenger Amy McGrath in Kentucky, has spent $570,000.

Table 8: Google and Facebook Spending by Candidates and Single Candidate SuperPAC Sponsors

StatePartySponsor FB
Apr 9)
July 15)
Apr 12)
July 19)
early Apr)
AKREPSullivan, Dan18,0314,1785,8001,10023,8315,278
AKINDGross, Al Dr.16,71813,2514,1002,30020,81815,551
ALDEMJones, Doug425,523299,60511,1003,700436,623303,305
ALREPTuberville, Thomas H71,44013,6423,10020074,54013,842
ALREPSessions, Jefferson B5,602375005,602375
ARREPCotton, Thomas43,8854,5477,900051,7854,547
ARINDWhitfield, Daniel Allen1,695214001,695214
AZDEMKelly, Mark1,434,835472,442622,600198,5002,057,435670,942
AZREPMcsally, Martha600,717199,329360,20096,800960,917296,129
AZREPMcCarthy, Daniel20,4214,8360020,4214,836
CADEMHarris, Kamala D009,70009,7000
CODEMHickenlooper, John W.489,28764,831395,00043,500884,287108,331
COREPGardner, Cory171,23759,70068,00028,800239,23788,500
CODEMLet's Turn Colorado Bluepro-Hickenlooper79,24500079,2450
CODEMRomanoff, Andrew29,00040029,0004
COUNKRodriguez, Joshua2525002525
CODEMBennet, Michael F.1919001919
DEDEMCoons, Christopher A.38,7187,79422,50018,50061,21826,294
DEDEMScarane, Jessica2,8002,3002,6005005,4002,800
DEREPWitzke, Lauren Elena180200018020
FLREPScott, Rick Sen15,3064,8210015,3064,821
GADEMOssoff, T. Jonathan540,599148,464143,30094,900683,899243,364
GADEMWarnock, Raphael596,913162,22059,00028,600655,913190,820
GAREPCollins, Douglas Allen202,35052,80167,20027,100269,55079,901
GAREPLoeffler, Kelly146,78427,24054,3005,400201,08432,640
GAREPPerdue, David67,25521,46727,4009,70094,65531,167
GADEMLieberman, Matthew48,0519,9201,70030049,75110,220
GADEMTarver, Edward J.8,7081,8101,0001009,7081,910
GADEMTomlinson, Teresa Pike4,11101,50005,6110
GAREPJohnson, Arthur Wayne2,078754002,078754
GAREPTaylor, Kandiss Sharpe Dr1,192959001,192959
GADEMJohnson-Shealey, Tamara84132300841323
GAREPGrayson, Derrick E Rev403790040379
GADEMRiggs Amico, Sarah3070003070
GAREPStovall, Valencia18418400184184
GADEMDejesus, Marckeith1490001490
GADEMWinfield, Richard Dien86000860
IAREPErnst, Joni K310,27790,948273,600180,800583,877271,748
IADEMGreenfield, Theresa152,87846,718340,60099,200493,478145,918
IADEMFranken, Michael88,01100088,0110
IADEMMauro, Eddie J48,624014,000062,6240
IADEMIowa Forwardanti-Ernst38,81950010,500049,319500
IAREPIowa Valuespro-Ernst12,32500012,3250
IAINDHerzog, Suzanne1000001000
IDDEMJordan, Paulette5,0113,484005,0113,484
ILDEMDurbin, Richard J15,174933,90050019,074593
ILREPCurran, Mark4,041388004,041388
ILLIBMalouf, Danny95424600954246
ILOTHWilson, Willie29229200292292
KSDEMBollier, Barbara98,29042,955216,200100,000314,490142,955
KSREPMarshall, Roger W49,32212,7561,80020051,12212,956
KSREPLindstrom, David Alan29,5799,7900029,5799,790
KSREPLaturner, Jake27,06112,1860027,06112,186
KSREPPlains PACpro-Marshall15,57013,08417,10012,30032,67025,384
KSREPFree Forever PACpro-Kobach8,9777,481008,9777,481
KSREPKobach, Kris5,6151,72610005,7151,726
KSREPPruitt, Bryan94994900949949
KSREPWagle, Susan2000002000
KSREPEllis, Derek C200200020020
KSREPMatlock, Brian20010000200100
KSDEMReddi, Usha50000500
KYDEMMcGrath, Amy1,152,486246,4411,444,500322,9002,596,986569,341
KYREPMcconnell, Mitch1,256,162252,317636,70084,9001,892,862337,217
KYDEMBooker, Charles995,4920116,20001,111,6920
KYDEMDitch Fundpro-McGrath219,08315,19000219,08315,190
KYDEMSave America Fundpro-McGrath104,68317,99100104,68317,991
KYDEMBroihier, Michael George36,24401,000037,2440
KYDEMRothmuller, Eric8000008000
KYREPMorgan, Clinton Wesley6640006640
LAREPCassidy, William M.2,4142,414002,4142,414
LADEMPerkins, Adrian002,3002,3002,3002,300
LADEMPierce, Antoine1,630339001,630339
LAREPMurphy, Dustin87876900878769
LAREPConservative Louisianapro-Kennedy3460003460
MADEMKennedy, Joseph P Iii111,42053,86190,00070,100201,420123,961
MADEMMarkey, Edward J. Sen.94,85348,72960,00029,000154,85377,729
MADEMUnited for Massachusettspro-Markey60,63054,87677,50063,900138,130118,776
MADEMEnvironment America Action Fundpro-Markey43,590021,500065,0900
MAREPAyyadurai, Shiva Dr12,86412,8645,3005,30018,16418,164
MAREPO'Connor, Kevin J36214700362147
MADEMLiss-Riordan, Shannon Ms.0030003000
MADEMPemberton, Steve48000480
MEDEMGideon, Sara831,581228,732624,300175,7001,455,881404,432
MEREPCollins, Susan M.304,60387,54669,10027,900373,703115,446
MEREP1820 PACpro-S. Collins17,0509,40018,7006,40035,75015,800
MEDEMSweet, Betsy30,8115650030,811565
MEUNKSavage, Lisa Jill20000200
MIDEMPeters, Gary266,64195,915110,50044,600377,141140,515
MIREPJames, John127,60434,25528,70011,600156,30445,855
MIREPBetter Future Michiganpro-James56,64610,4838,4003,10065,04613,583
MNREPLewis, Jason141,66232,16115,4006,900157,06239,061
MNDEMSmith, Tina37,05210,5204,1001,40041,15211,920
MNDEMKlobuchar, Amy J.3,3540003,3540
MNREPBarrett, Robert Paul Mr Jr.3,0610003,0610
MSDEMEspy, Michael60,79133,68112,5003,20073,29136,881
MTREPDaines, Steven1,102,491272,361574,300181,1001,676,791453,461
MTDEMBullock, Steve407,18970,860292,30099,100699,489169,960
MTDEMMues, John5,6680005,6680
NCDEMCunningham, Cal351,695126,10646,40017,400398,095143,506
NCREPTillis, Thom R. Sen.15,6451,179152,00022,100167,64523,279
NCREPSmith, Sandy4,573849004,573849
NEREPSasse, Benjamin E18,422013,300031,7220
NEDEMJanicek, Chris Edward Mr4,2040004,2040
NEDEMMacek, Dennis Frank2,3220002,3220
NEDEMShelton, Alisha93500935
NHREPMessner, Bryant 'Corky' S.37,48014,7454,50030041,98015,045
NHDEMShaheen, Jeanne16,31811,0658,3002,10024,61813,165
NHREPBolduc, Donald C.2,205349002,205349
NJDEMBooker, Cory A.64,57724,4590064,57724,459
NJREPSingh, Hirsh V15,67200015,6720
NJDEMHamm, Lawrence Mr.4,9160004,9160
NJREPMehta, Rikin2,5260002,5260
NJINDFernandez, Veronica1,45156001,45156
NJINDBurke, Daniel C. Mr.26116100261161
NMDEMLujan, Ben Ray30,70910,4483,6003,00034,30913,448
NMREPRonchetti, Mark V.9,6742,4861,90030011,5742,786
NMREPClarkson, Gavin7,7830007,7830
NMREPMartinez, Elisa5,2700005,2700
NYDEMGillibrand, Kirsten70,86323,0580070,86323,058
OKDEMBroyles, Abby63,1028034,600067,702803
OKREPInhofe, James M. Sen.7,2101,08770007,9101,087
OKREPMavis, Neil J Mr.7,3410007,3410
OKREPStitt, Jj Mr.1,0010001,0010
OKDEMBritt, Elysabeth7350007350
ORDEMMerkley, Jeffrey Alan101,64321,42200101,64321,422
ORGRETaher, Ibrahim21310000213100
ORREPPerkins, Jo Rae160500016050
RIREPWaters, Allen1,963373001,963373
SCDEMHarrison, Jaime2,681,973606,920969,200344,5003,651,173951,420
SCREPGraham, Lindsey O.1,388,778338,299255,20058,8001,643,978397,099
SCREPLapierre, Michael James14,46900014,4690
SCREPReynolds, Joseph6,0540006,0540
SCREPBuckner, Dwayne Duke9210009210
SCREPSecurity is Strengthpro-Graham7500007500
SCREPWilliams, Lloyd Benton Mr. Iii2000002000
SDREPRounds, Mike7,0050007,0050
SDREPBorglum, Scyller1,7610001,7610
SDDEMAhlers, Dan340108008001,140810
TNREPHagerty, Bill134,35149,539180,300124,700314,651174,239
TNREPSethi, Dr. Manny60,59021,91840,30012,100100,89034,018
TNREPFlinn, George S Dr Jr41,83217,9640041,83217,964
TNDEMMackler, James15,71714,90712,8006,60028,51721,507
TNREPBush, Byron2,5451,3354,7002,3007,2453,635
TNREPCope, Roy Dale1,372563001,372563
TNREPOsborne, John E.001,2007001,200700
TNREPHenry, Jon2000002000
TNINDHill, Garland Dean Ii156560015656
TNINDMcleod, Elizabeth D1300001300
TXREPCornyn, John Sen457,827213,57961,7003,700519,527217,279
TXDEMHegar, Mary Jennings Mj98,61554,77839,00013,700137,61568,478
TXDEMWest, Royce50,0252,1700050,0252,170
TXREPCastro, John Anthony2,6250002,6250
TXDEMTzintzun Ramirez, Cristina1000001000
TXREPStovall, Dwayne1000001000
VADEMWarner, Mark Robert31,01301,50060032,513600
VAREPGade, Daniel Macarthur Mr.16,5898,1725,2003,00021,78911,172
VAREPSpeciale, Thomas A Ii2,3150002,3150
VAREPBaldwin, Alissa2,1150002,1150
WVDEMSwearengin, Paula Jean56,9208,3120056,9208,312
WVREPWhitt, Larry Allen Ii1,9000001,9000
WYREPLummis, Cynthia Marie27,1186,87010,3003,20037,41810,070
WYREPMiller, Bryan2,5351,508002,5351,508
WYDEMBen David, Merav1,076510001,076510
WYREPWheeler, Joshua B82024600820246
Digital spending figures come from the Facebook ad library reports and the Google Transparency Report. Spending covers the April 9 or
July 15 to August 8, 2020 (for Facebook); April 12 or July 19 to August 8, 2020 (for Google). Spenders include 2020 U.S. Senate candidates,
leadership PACs, and single-candidate super PACs in support of (or in opposition to) those candidates.
Single-candidate super PAC identifications are from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Classifications of Senate candidates from the Wesleyan Media Project with help from the Center for Responsive Politics.
See “About the Data” section at the end of this report for more information on our methodology along with the specific page names
and disclaimers that are counted.

Additional page names (including other outside groups) mentioning senatorial (and presidential) candidates on Facebook can be investigated through the help of the Wesleyan Media Project’s student-driven Delta Lab via our interactive table, Table 9.

Table 9: Facebook Pages Mentioning Candidates for President and Senate in 2020

Click here to view the table in a new tab (with larger text)

Table includes Facebook page names spending approximately $25,000 or more on advertising that mentions 2020 presidential or senatorial candidates (excluding candidate self-references) between April 9 and August 8, 2020, or pages spending approximately $5,000 or more on advertising between July 15 and August 8, 2020. This interactive table is part of an ongoing, work-in-progress project from WMP’s student-driven Delta Lab. Data table by Delta Lab’s Kevin McMorrow (’20).

New Tool: Assessing Regional Focus of Facebook Ads

The Wesleyan Media Project’s Delta Lab is thrilled to release a new tool designed to help assess the regional focus of Facebook advertising by different outside groups and the presidential campaigns. With a dynamic slider for time, actual spend by state viewable in a mouseover, and the ability to compare two entities, we can see clearly, for example, that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has been spending most heavily on Facebook ads viewed in New York, Texas, Florida and California (all between $80,000 and $90,000) over the last four weeks whereas the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has been most heavily spending in Georgia (nearly $90,000 spent) followed by Montana, Texas and Florida, which saw spending in the low to mid $60,000s.

Figure 3: Regional Focus of Facebook Advertising by Top Sponsors Over Time

Digital spending comes from the Facebook ad library reports. Data visualization application by Delta Lab’s Roshaan Siddiqui (’22). Classifications from the Wesleyan Media Project with help from the Center for Responsive Politics.

If we compare Majority Forward and One Nation, two of the largest outside spenders on television, for the period from July 12 through August 8, 2020, we see that Majority Forward is concentrating on Montana and Iowa (both have over $100,000 in spending) followed by Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina, each with about half that amount. Small amounts of money (roughly $300 to $400) have been spent in each of the other 45 states during the same period. One Nation, by contrast, has also spent heavily in Colorado and North Carolina (roughly $40,000 each), followed by Iowa, Maine and Georgia at about half that amount. Montana, Alabama and Kentucky are in the next spending tier (ranging from $8,000 to $13,000) and then Arizona (roughly $4,000) followed distantly by Iowa ($230). No other U.S. states have seen any One Nation Facebook ads.

Read more about how we gather the data displayed in it on our Delta Lab post here.

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.

For Facebook ads, data come from the aggregate reports, but our figures are more comprehensive than what Facebook reports on their campaign page because we include spending on ads that are funded by the campaigns even when they run on different pages in our totals (e.g., Trump funded ads on Mike Pence or Brad Parscale’s pages are included in the Trump totalsWe looked for pages attached to each candidate, including possible leadership PACsjoint-fund-raising committees, and, in the case of presidential candidates, affiliated Senate/House pages. Aggregate report entries are provided for each page name and disclaimer combination. Totals for most of this report on spending between April 9, 2020 (or July 15, 2020) and August 8, 2020 are calculated by subtracting the reported cumulative spending (as reported by Facebook as the total spent since May 2018) for the August 8, 2020 report and subtracting off the cumulative spending reported for April 8, 2020 (or July 14, 2020).

In Table 9, the columns Approximate Spend on Mentions and Number of Ads Mentioning candidates are calculated for each entity by averaging the bounds of ads that mention candidates and averaging the bounds of all ads from that entity, then dividing the two to get the proportion of spend (or ads) that mention candidates. We then multiply that proportion by Facebook’s totals from the daily reports to arrive at the Approximate Spend on Mentions and the Number of Ads Mentioning candidates.

Calculating cycle-to-date Facebook totals is more challenging than looking at totals from the last couple of months. 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 candidates had identical names and disclaimers, but we believe these instances are rare for the set of ads covered in this report. For cycle-to-date spending, we subtracted the January 5, 2019 total from the August 8, 2020 total to get the spending by page and disclaimer for January 6, 2019 through August 8, 2020. We also report spending from April 9, 2020 through August 8, 2020 and July 15, 2020 through August 8, 2020. We rely on a Delta Lab monitoring tool to identify and avoid using days on which Facebook has a problem with the aggregated spending report.

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. 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 Facebook aggregate 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.

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 May. 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 8/11/20, the day on which we pulled the transparency report. 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, and candidates for U.S Senate and affiliated single-candidate super PACs. 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 the following time periods: January 6, 2020 through August 8, 2020; April 12, 2020 through August 8, 2020; and July 19, 2020 through August 8, 2020.

In Table B (click here to download), we list the advertiser name for all entities used in this report to calculate Google spending 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), Markus Neumann (Post-Doctoral Fellow), and Jielu Yao (Post-Doctoral Fellow).

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. We especially thank Kevin McMorrow ‘20 and Roshaan Siddiqui ‘22 for their contributions to this report.

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.