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Record Breaking Volume of US House and US Senate Airings

(MIDDLETOWN, CT) September 9, 2020 – A new analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project, in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that pro-Biden television ads have dominated the presidential race in the past month. Since August 10, Joe Biden and his group supporters have aired 106,000 television ads at a cost of $58.9 million compared to 57,000 ads at a cost of $35.8 million for Trump and his group supporters (Table 1). Biden’s campaign has put up 92,000 ad airings (at a cost of almost $46 million), while Trump’s campaign has aired 26,000 ad airings at a cost of about $14 million. America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, has spent $6.7 million on ads in the past month.

Table 1: Top Spenders in Presidential Race on TV (since August 10)

SponsorAiringsSpend ($)Party
Biden, Joe92,36045,815,160D
Trump, Donald26,15913,776,640R
America First Action10,8876,746,710R
Club for Growth Action65564,648,360R
The Lincoln Project21033,685,500D
AB PAC57103,348,860D
NRA Victory Fund, Inc.60393,194,100R
Preserve America PAC48553,092,420R
Restoration PAC20902,883,130R
Americans For Limited Government29442,629,090D
Priorities USA Action26122,248,800D
Committee to Defend the President2181,342,210R
Future Majority, Inc164422,220D
EDF Action Votes170264,270D
Unite the Country191118,140D
Independent Women's Voice & Patients for Real Prices9112,920R
Nuestro PAC7899,710D
Republican Voters Against Trump948,350D
America's Progressive Promise PAC230,710D
AFT Solidarity520,830D
Pharmaceutical Care Management Association519,330D
ELPC Action Fund254,300D
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between August 10 and September 4, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

All told, spending on broadcast television and national cable ads in the presidential race, including massive Bloomberg spending during the nomination campaign, is up to $993 million. Television ad spending in all federal races—including Senate, House and the presidential race—now totals $1.54 billion.

The ad advantage to Biden on television overall and in the last month is shown in Figure 1. (National ad buys are excluded from the map, but Biden has and even greater advantage there too, with more national cable spending than Trump and allies and 1,882 airings to 301 for Trump.) When looking at the full general election (defined here as April 9, which is the day after Bernie Sanders dropped out), pro-Biden and pro-Trump totals have been more balanced (247,053 pro-Trump airings to 207,737 pro-Biden spots), with both sides spending nearly the same ($126m for Biden and allies compared to $128.5m for the pro-Trump side). Changing the time filter to the last month shows clearly how the ad balance has tilted in Biden’s favor recently.

“Early in the general election period, Trump was massively out-airing Biden,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “In our earlier analysis of May and June ad totals, the Trump campaign had put up over 50,000 spots to Biden’s 3,000. With the fall campaign ramping up, the imbalance has heavily tipped to Biden.”

Figure 1: Advertising Advantage in the Presidential Race on Television

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television (excluding national cable airings) between April 9 and September 4, 2020, and between August 10 and September 4, 2020.
Figure by Delta Lab’s Spencer Dean ’21 and Kevin McMorrow ’20
Download the data in this map as a spreadsheet.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Phoenix is Top Media Market in Presidential Race in Last Month

When it comes to both presidential ad airings and spending, the Phoenix media market sits on top (Table 2). The presidential campaigns and supportive groups have spent almost $8 million in Phoenix on almost 10,800 ad airings in the past month. Tucson, Arizona, ranks third in terms of total airings. Media markets in Florida (Tampa, Orlando and Miami), Wisconsin (Green Bay and Milwaukee) and Pennsylvania (Harrisburg and Pittsburgh) also make the top 10 in total ad airings for the past month. Pro-Biden forces have out-aired Trump and his allies in all top 25 markets since August 10.

Table 2: Airings and Spending by Media Market in Presidential Race (Since August 10)

AiringsSpend ($)Dem group
spend ($)
Rep group
spend ($)
Dem cand
spend ($)
Rep Cand
spend ($)
Rep (Trump)
Phoenix, AZ10,7867,949,7601,007,0802,809,3403,330,150803,190-1334
Tampa, FL6,8074,254,880748,890125,1302,588,060792,800-3021
Tucson, AZ6,5732,838,92073,1301,066,7101,293,470405,610-1907
Green Bay, WI6,5382,496,730592,9701,072,250695,050136,460-682
Harrisburg, PA6,3834,542,0901,038,5301,843,6001,656,6603,300-1445
Milwaukee, WI6,2113,186,640605,7901,106,0001,232,660242,190-1003
Orlando, FL5,6764,848,170531,240109,8103,186,1801,020,940-2186
Raleigh, NC5,5813,191,18001,543,9001,276,440370,840-527
Miami, FL5,3683,014,75013,52002,236,670764,560-2502
Pittsburgh, PA5,3164,881,2901,432,2502,180,8301,268,2100-1520
La Crosse, WI5,3011,806,820307,050744,020620,330135,420-543
Charlotte, NC4,9222,647,580225,58095,6201,508,680817,700-1834
Philadelphia, PA4,6534,163,49001,629,3402,534,1500-2325
Johnstown, PA4,6501,819,870388,100892,980538,7900-1010
Wilkes Barre, PA4,5832,221,470442,0201,226,010553,4400-599
Greensboro, NC4,5771,360,8200714,920507,770138,130-819
Wausau, WI4,2002,908,150542,160862,0401,071,860432,090-298
Jacksonville, FL3,9821,194,320336,91074,220578,120205,070-1584
Erie, PA3,6691,514,990432,240777,880304,8700-141
Madison, WI3,4851,568,060126,040339,530915,870186,620-1267
Detroit, MI3,4602,948,2301,150,240161,2001,636,7900-3346
Ft. Myers, FL3,0321,104,230130,6800687,800285,750-1464
Grand Rapids, MI2,9981,011,28068,560230,330712,3900-1738
West Palm Beach, FL2,9181,273,130221,0300725,300326,800-1146
Greenville, NC2,666616,2400175,370308,640132,230-502
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between August 10 and September 4, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Trump Leads Biden in Digital Spending but Gap Narrows

Trump continues to have the upper hand in digital advertising, on both Facebook and Google, though the margin is shrinking (see Table 3). Since early August, Trump’s campaign has spent about $45 million on ads on Facebook and Google, compared to $34 million for Biden’s campaign.

“Although Trump has outspent Biden on digital ads in the past month, that gap has narrowed from earlier in the year, when Trump’s digital spending massively outpaced Biden’s,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “Keep in mind also that much of this spending is not directed at persuasion; some of it is spending aimed at raising additional campaign funds.”

Table 3: Digital Ad Spending by Presidential Candidates and Single-Candidate SuperPACs

FB $
FB $
Google $
Google $
FB+Google $
FB+Google $
Unite the Country
Great America PAC
Digital spending figures come from the Facebook ad library reports and the Google Transparency Report. Spending covers
April 9 or August 9 to September 4, 2020 (for Facebook); April 12 or August 9 to September 5, 2020 (for Google).
Candidate spending numbers include spending by official campaign committees, leadership PACs, and joint fundraising committees.
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.

Looking at the regional impressions for Trump and Biden on Facebook between August 9 and September 5 (Figure 2) reveals that both California and Florida are key areas of spending by the Biden and Trump campaigns. Texas ranks third in impressions for Trump while Pennsylvania is third for Biden.

Figure 2: 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.

Television Ad Volumes Up Over Past Two Cycles

Overall, the volume of presidential advertising is much higher than in 2016—and in the past week was higher than in 2012 (Figure 3). Total volume is higher because of the heavy Bloomberg and Tom Steyer spending earlier in the Democratic nomination phase of the campaign. Airings bottomed-out in late March and the first half of April but have been steadily rising since June—and have since regularly come close to 2016 totals, even surpassing them in the most recent week.

Figure 3: Number of Presidential Ad Airings by Week (2012, 2016 and 2020)

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

Senate airings are well above levels in 2012 and 2016. Indeed, the number of airings in the most recent week was about four times as much as in 2012 and 2016 (Figure 4).

“Certainly, the competitive nature of many Senate races—and the fact that control of the Senate is up for grabs this year—has made it easy for campaigns to raise money for Senate advertising,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Figure 4: Number of Senate Ad Airings by Week (2012, 2016 and 2020)

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

Figure 5 shows that House airings are also way up over 2012 and 2016. Week-to-week totals in the last six weeks have outpaced those earlier cycles by two to four times. More generally the Democratic majority in the House is not as vulnerable as GOP control of the U.S. Senate. Still, in the last month 20 House races have featured at least 2,000 airings on broadcast television stations. This included 12,000 airings in two Massachusetts primary campaigns, which were held on September 1.

Figure 5: Number of House Ad Airings by Week (2012, 2016 and 2020)

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

One Nation Spends Heavily on Senate TV, Digital Ads

The conservative group, One Nation, has been the top group spender in federal races this election cycle (among those groups that have spent on television). The group, which does not disclose its donors, has spent over $42 million on in support of Republican candidates in 11 U.S. Senate races—most of them extremely competitive. Table 4 looks at the top TV spenders in federal races (in the full cycle-to-date) and compares that spending to their Google and Facebook ad totals. Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic-leaning super PAC, has spent over $32 million on television, Facebook and Google in many of those same Senate races as One Nation. While most groups airing ads on television have spent vastly more on television than on Facebook or Google ads, Priorities USA Action is an exception, with $12 million Facebook ad spending and $4 million in Google ad spending.

Table 4: Top Outside Group Spenders

SponsorParty LeanTelevision
Spend ($)
spend ($)
spend ($)
Total ($)Races
(with TV ads)
One NationR40,353,950843,7611,450,90042,648,611Sen: AL, AZ, CO, GA,
Senate Majority PACD30,437,320933,031692,50032,062,851AZ, CO, GA, IA, ME,
Duty and HonorD22,244,230382,943223,40022,850,573AL, AZ, CO, GA, ME,
Majority ForwardD22,017,350674,903335,00023,027,253AZ, CO, GA, IA, ME,
Doctor Patient UnityR21,524,640803,226022,327,866Sen: AL, AZ, CO, GA,
House: CA 23
Priorities USA ActionD20,220,04012,123,3713,938,50036,281,911Pres
America First ActionR19,201,9301,526,9201,838,70022,567,550Pres
Senate Leadership FundR14,577,900230,286972,40015,780,586Pres; Sen: GA, IA, KS,
AB PACD14,526,000940,245015,466,245Pres
Club for Growth ActionR14,245,3601,302,790137,10015,685,250Pres; Sen: AL, KS; House:
AL01, AL02, FL19, GA07,
GA09, IN05, KY04, ME02,
MI10, NC03, NC09, OK05,
SC01, TN01, TX12, TX21,
VA07, WI07
Unite the CountryD10,351,5401,610,273336,00012,297,813Pres
Persist PACD9,622,250347,718367,10010,337,068Pres
VoteVetsD9,321,370261,15526,1009,608,625Pres; Sen: NC, ME, NC,
TX; House: NM03
House Majority ForwardD8,535,940140,550161,1008,837,590House: CA21, CA49, IA01, IA03,
ME02, MI08, MI11, MN02, NC09,
NH01, NM02, NV03, NY19, NY22,
NY24, OK05, PA08, PA10, SC01,
TX16, UT04, VA02, VA07
American Action NetworkR7,828,320887,858937,2009,653,378House: IA01, IA03, IL13, ME02,
MI08, MN01, MN07, NC08, NE02,
NJ03, NM02, NV03, NY19, NY21,
NY22, NY24, OK05, PA08, PA10,
PA17, SC01, UT04, VA02, VA07
The Lincoln ProjectD7,373,9603,123,38950,30010,547,649Pres; Sen: AK, AZ, IA, KY, ME, MT, NC
Restoration PACR7,058,180435,987345,8007,839,967Pres; Sen: MI
VoteVets Action FundD4,922,140649,586152,7005,724,426Sen: AZ, MI, NC; House:
NC09, NY24, VA05
U.S. Chamber of CommerceR4,729,4201,429,10486,7006,245,224Sen: AZ, CO, IA, KS,
ME, NC; House: IA04
Women VoteD4,617,910254,51367,3004,939,723Sen: IA, TX; House: IA02,
IL03, NY24, VA05
Table shows television, Facebook and Google spending for the top group spenders on television. For TV, numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and
national cable between January 1, 2019, and September 4, 2020. Facebook ads are between January 6, 2019, and September 4, 2020. Google ads are between
January 6, 2019, and September 5, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Dark Money Common in House, Senate Races

In partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, the Wesleyan Media Project 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 Federal Election Commission), 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).

Groups airing ads using nondisclosed money are quite common in Senate and House races, though less so in the presidential race (Table 5). The table looks at outside group spending and ad totals and calculates the share of those airings that come from different group types. Sixty-five percent of pro-Republican outside group airings in Senate races during the entire 2019-2020 election cycle were from groups that do not disclose their money—so-called “dark money” groups—while almost half of pro-Democratic airings in the U.S. Senate races were undisclosed. In House races, 55 percent of pro-Democratic group airings were from dark money groups, while 39 percent of pro-Republican group airings were from dark money groups.

By contrast, dark money group airings were relatively rare in the presidential race, just 9.2 percent of pro-Democratic and 20.7 percent of pro-Republican group airings. Still, the majority of the pro-Democratic group airings came from groups that partially disclose their donors.

Table 5: Group Spending by Race and Disclosure Type

Full DisclosurePartialNon-Disclosing
(Dark Money)
Total% Dark
est. $31,140,25039,344,4307,277,76077,762,440
est. $35,698,98006,045,59041,744,570
est. $25,631,20048,211,01062,531,130136,373,340
est. $33,979,960073,847,390107,827,350
est. $8,634,690886,76013,890,35023,411,800
est. $13,084,6105,990,06010,172,61029,247,280
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between January 1, 2019, and September 4, 2020.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Group classification provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Figure 6 looks at group spending rates between 2012 and 2020 in presidential and congressional races by week. We collapse partial and full disclosing groups into one category and plot the percentage of group airings from those groups. These graphs do not scale for volume but look only at the profile of groups on the air across the campaigns. Notably, in presidential elections, groups that publicly disclose all or partial lists of donors were more common than in congressional elections, where dark money groups were always a higher share of group ad totals.

In congressional races, dark money is more common early in the campaign, and full and partial disclosing groups constitute a higher share of group spending as Election Day approaches. In 2020, the share of fully and partially disclosing ads has plateaued in the last number of months, and as of early September, about half of outside group ads in congressional campaigns were from dark money groups.

Figure 6: Percentage of Group Ads Disclosing Donors by Cycle Over Time

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast and national cable television between January 1 of the off-cycle year and September 4 of the election year.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Group disclosure classifications provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

MT and GA Top Senate Races; NY-22 Top House Race

Tables 6 and 7 show spending in the top Senate and House races since August 10. At least 20,000 ads have aired in seven states with Senate races. Georgia has two Senate races, and 46,000 ads have aired across both. Montana has seen over 60,000 ads in the last month, with nearly even pro-Democratic and pro-GOP airings. Outside groups are heavily involved in these top races, with groups accounting for at least one-third of pro-Democratic and pro-Republican totals in the top seven states. All told, outside groups account for 42 percent of all Senate advertising since August 10.

Table 6: Airings and Spending by Race in U.S. Senate

StateAiringsCost ($)Pro-Dem
Dem Cand $GOP Cand $Dem Grp %
(of Dem)
GOP Grp %
(of GOP)
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between August 10 and September 4, 2020. Spending by formal party organizations is reflected
in the airing and spending totals (as are any ads from third party candidates) but is not separated out in columns in this table.
*Spending in Georgia collapses across both races in the state.
CITE SOURCE OF DATA AS: Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

The top House race since August 10 is New York’s 22nd congressional district. As noted, two contested Democratic primary campaigns in Massachusetts are in the top 10. Outside groups are less involved in House races, but they did account for 2 in every 5 ads in the MA-01 race. All told, outside groups have sponsored 19 percent of House ads in these top 25 races in the last month.

Table 7: Airings and Spending by Race in U.S. House

DistrictAiringsCost ($)Pro-Dem
cand $
cand $
Dem Grp %
(of Dem)
GOP Grp %
(of GOP)
Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television between August 10 and September 4, 2020. Spending by formal party organizations is reflected in the
airing and spending totals (as are any ads from third party candidates) but is not separated out in columns in this table.
*Candidate in AK-01 is the Democratic nominee but is running as unenrolled in a party.
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.

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 totals). We 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 reflect spending between April 9, 2020 or August 9, 2020 and September 4, 2020. These totals are calculated by subtracting the reported cumulative spending (as reported by Facebook as the total spent since May 2018) for the September 4, 2020 report and subtracting off the cumulative spending reported for April 8, 2020 or August 8, 2020.

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 September 4, 2020 total to get the spending by page and disclaimer for January 6, 2019 through September 4, 2020. We also report spending from April 9, 2020 through September 4, 2020 and August 9, 2020 through September 4, 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.

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 September. 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 9/8/20, 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: April 12, 2020 through September 5, 2020; August 9, 2020 through September 5, 2020; and January 6, 2019 through September 5, 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 Spencer Dean ’21, 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

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