Linear TV Still Trumps Digital in 2020 Political Ad Spending

As campaigning for the 2020 presidential election heads into its final months, political ad spending will hit an all-time high. The hyper-partisan political environment is driving more money than ever into advertising.

New data from eMarketer on federal, state and local political ad spending, including PAC ads for candidates and lobbying activities, finds the 2019/2020 election cycle will reach $6.89 billion.

This is 63.3% higher than the $4.21 billion in spending in the 2015-16 political season, underscoring the intensity of not only the presidential race, but races for congressional seats as well.

Notably, while over-the-top video continues to cannibalize linear TV, political ad spending still resonates primarily on television.

eMarketer reports traditional TV will account for $4.55 billion in spending, with political TV ads representing 3.2% of all TV advertising and 66% of all political ad spending. TV’s share of political advertising is up a bit from the prior election year, as it takes share from radio and print.

“Political spending floods the TV airwaves during the last weeks before the election, raising prices and crowding out other advertisers,” analyst Eric Haggstrom said in a statement. “Despite cord-cutting and declining viewership, TV still offers strong reach, particularly among older Americans who are likely to vote.”

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Haggstrom said the vast majority of political spending goes to local broadcast or cable/satellite providers, as advertisers focus on states, or postal Zip Codes, that can swing an election.

In the 2019/2020 election season, political digital ad spending will grow to $1.34 billion — representing 19.4% of all political advertising and 0.5% of all digital spending. Digital jumps 203% over the 2015/16 presidential election season, when spending was $440 million.

Primary digital platforms for political ads: Facebook and Google/YouTube.

“One of the key benefits of digital advertising over TV is its targeting capabilities,” Haggstrom said. “Granular demographic, audience and list-based targeting allows political advertisers to efficiently reach the right people with the right message.”