Election 2020: And Here We Go!

Now that we have all recovered from a record-breaking mid-term cycle in 2018, we can turn our attention to the looming 2020 Presidential election. Several Democratic nominees have already announced, and yet more are rumored to be fundraising, networking and opening up exploratory committees. There are even rumblings, most likely apocryphal, of another primary challenger for President Trump in the offing.

Nevertheless, Kantar Media/CMAG can report that the TV ad war is well underway with three candidates on the air since January 1—taking their cases to the electorate with national ad buys and, of course, local TV and cable buys in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets. All in, we can report a total exceeding $877,000 in advertising with over a thousand airings of three unique creatives.

On January 5, President Trump released the first TV spot of his re-election campaign urging border security and attacking Congressional Democrats for their obstructionism. With the polls turning against him during the government shutdown, it is unsurprising that his campaign sought a national audience, both on network TV and cable. His spot has appeared a total of twenty-nine times at a cost nearing $237,000.

On the Democrat side, former Congressman John Delaney [MD-06] continued to air a spot originally released in July, striking a moderate, Blue Dog tone while citing how technological innovation will positively impact the labor market. Contra Trump, Mr. Delaney bought only local Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media in an attempt to persuade Dem caucus goers to support his candidacy. Though he is certainly a long shot to secure the nomination—or even emerge from Iowa a viable candidate—his team came to play with a flight airing from February 20 to March 15 totaling $350,000 in spending spread out across local broadcast media and local cable.

The first PAC to air a presidential spot in 2019 is Act Now on Climate, releasing their first creative for the 2020 general election on March 5. While many Democrat candidates have sworn off PAC money, Washington Governor Jay Inslee appears to be bucking this trend as he urges action on climate change in this spot. What is most interesting about this buy was not that they were targeting local Iowa markets, which they did, but that they added national cable to their media mix as well. Kantar Media/CMAG can only speculate these markets were chosen not merely to drive caucus turnout, but also to make a national fundraising pitch. Their flight extends to March 18 with $291,000 booked in combined spending.

If this seems like a great deal of ad activity for an election that is 20 months away…that’s because it is. Kantar Media/CMAG analyzed the first 10 weeks of 2015—the comparable time period vis a vis the 2016 presidential election—and noticed a significant disparity. For that time period there was one presidential ad on the air, a PAC called The Emergency Committee for Israel was criticizing Hillary Clinton over the Iran Deal. The ad buy was comparatively meager—11 occurrences at a cost of $26,000—and it appeared only in New York and Washington, DC. While the presidential candidates on the air now are wishing to mold national public opinion and drive turnout in a very important electoral state, ECFI took a more modest, targeted approach at opinion makers and influencers in two of this country’s power centers.

It’s still very early in this process and the dataset is too limited to support any airtight conclusions regarding the political advertising environment attending the 2020 election, but a 34 fold increase in advertising spend may be a leading indicator. This is compounded by the fact that that none of the Dem heavyweights- Harris, Booker, Biden, Warren, Sanders—have even chimed in and we may still hear from a GOP primary rival for Trump.

Buckle up. It’s going to a be a bumpy season.

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