Mitt Romney may be gaining in the polls, but his campaign spots trail President Obama’s, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks and analyzes political advertisement spending data. In the past three weeks, pro-Obama ads have outnumbered pro-Romney ads 112,000 to 97,000, with pro-Obama ads leading in 13 of 15 top media markets.
Pro-Romney ads have a slight advantage in just two top battleground markets—Columbus, Ohio; and Norfolk, Va.—while Obama has a significant lead in the Denver, Las Vegas, and Orlando ad markets. With early voting already under way in many areas and the margin between the candidates narrowing, the time to spend remaining cash is running out.
For Republicans, though, spending a lot of cash might not translate into more ad volume. Despite the smaller number of pro-Romney ads, Republican groups outspent Democratic groups by $10 million in the first three weeks of October, $87 million on the Republican side to $77 million on the Democratic side, according to the report. One explanation for the apparent contradiction is that the Obama campaign, which is entitled to the lowest rate by television stations, is providing the funding for the majority of the Democratic ad buys. As The Daily Beast previously reported, outside Republican groups, which must pay the market rate for airtime, are still funding a large number of pro-Romney ads, translating to fewer ads for more money.
So far this cycle, presidential advertising has already exceeded 2008 levels by 50 percent. The Wesleyan analysis puts total ad spending at $900 million so far, as compared with $600 million at this point in 2008, with two important weeks to go.
The Wesleyan analysis might not tell the whole story, however. The project’s data do not track ads that have been paid for but have not yet aired. Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics points out that outside groups, especially on the Republican side, have spent hundreds of millions in October alone, which might indicate a large push that would not appear in the Wesleyan analysis.
The Wesleyan report puts total October ad spending at $164 million, while the latest Center for Responsive Politics tally calculates October spending from just outside groups as exceeding $260 million. (The later count includes only outside groups, as campaigns have yet to officially report their October spending to the Federal Election Commission.) The missing $100 million could be going toward ads later this month or campaigning not tracked by Kantar Media, the media analysis group whose data the Wesleyan Media Project uses for its analysis, such as radio ads, fliers, or direct mailers.
To a greater extent than in 2008, both campaigns have concentrated their ad spending in the key battleground states of Colorado, Ohio, Nevada, and Virginia. Missouri, Indiana, Montana, and North Dakota have nearly dropped off the map of targeted markets since 2008. Michigan and Minnesota also have seen declines, according to the report. What is entirely clear is that spending remains record-breaking this election due to recent Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United that have allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts. The individual number of ads produced so far tops 915,000, a 44.5 percent increase from 2008’s tally of 637,000 ads. Regardless of who wins, it’s a good year to be in advertising.