Campaigns will spend a record $10.8 billion in the 2020 elections, as we head into a historically high political ad spend month

Campaigns will spend a record $10.8 billion in the 2020 elections, as we head into a historically high political ad spend month

October 5, 2020
  • Just under $11 billion will be spent on the 2020 elections.
  • And for nonpolitical advertisers, this substantial uptick in spending may create challenges.
  • Insider Intelligence analyzes this industry and several others to provide in-depth analyst reports, proprietary forecasts, customizable charts, and more. Learn more about what we offer.

The 2020 presidential and congressional elections will be the most expensive in history, with campaigns and affiliated organizations expected to spend $10.8 billion overall, per new data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics as cited by CNBC.

That estimate—which includes spending on canvassing, direct mail, and employee salaries—represents a substantial increase from the inflation-adjusted $7 billion spent during the 2016 elections. We forecast that in 2020, political advertising in the US will capture $6.23 billion. Roughly 15.3% of that spend will go toward digital and 69.0% will go to TV.

As the campaigns draw closer to the finish line, we can expect to see a significant acceleration in political ad spending in October. Political advertisers seeking to drive voters to the polls and make their final arguments to undecided voters will likely ramp up their spend across all channels this month.

During the 2018 midterm elections, October accounted for the largest share (32%) of US political digital ad spending compared with any other month and, coupled with November's share (20%), made up over half of all political digital spending in 2018, per June 2019 data from digital ad agency Centro. The Biden campaign especially has ramped up its spending: It reportedly laid out roughly $94.7 million on TV ads between September 5 and September 27, which is a significant increase from the $65.5 million it spent in August.

For nonpolitical advertisers, this substantial uptick in spending will likely create many challenges. As political ads flood the market this month, inventory will most likely be limited—and, in many instances, oversold—with the remaining available inventory likely subject to higher pricing.

Advertisers will feel this shortage the strongest on digital platforms like Facebook and Google and in the local TV markets of battleground states. Brands trying to compete for the same eyeballs should try to be as efficient as possible with marketing budgets—for example, by being more selective with audience targeting on Facebook and Google, or by investing in channels that see less attention from political organizations.

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