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The Finances Of Campaign Ads

Tim Parker

Campaign ad spending is the largest expense of any presidential campaign. To date, those ads we love to hate have totaled more than $470 million and the number will rise significantly before the November election.

In 2008, total ad spending by both parties was roughly $515 million, with the Democrats far outspending the Republicans. Democrat ads aired around 571,000 times during the campaign.

Getting the candidate's word out to voters is a science that requires some of the best-known ad producers and celebrities. Analysts skilled at identifying times and locations that maximize the value candidates get from each ad are highly-paid and sought-after, not only in presidential campaigns, but also in U.S. House and Senate races. Some of the facts may surprise you.

Most Popular States
From the perspective of a campaign manager, some states hold more political value. Analysts rate Florida as the most important state for the 2012 election with Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia nearly as important. If you live in California, Illinois, New York or Texas, candidates won't be making a large number of trips to your state this season if ad spending is any indication.

It's no surprise that ad spending in these states is high. The top 10 states identified as likely deciding the election are where the most ad dollars are funneled. Along with the states listed above, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire receive the largest amount of spending, with Florida seeing nearly $20 million in spending alone.

Who Spends the Most?
In 2008, the Obama campaign spent more than twice as much on ad spending than the McCain campaign, but will that hold true again this year? To date, the Obama campaign has spent over $150 million on ads. The Romney campaign has spent about $80 million. That's not the whole story.

Super PACs are not officially part of a candidate's campaign team, but they account for millions in ad spending. The top six Super PACs have spent around $174 million on ads collectively so far, with five out of six endorsing Romney. Romney has more than twice the number of Super PACs paying for ads than Obama.

What's the Tone of the Ads?
So far, about 79% of the ads are negative, with 99% taking a negative turn during the Republican National Convention. According to the Washington Post, the Obama campaign has spent more on negative ads than the Romney campaign, but when super PAC ad spending is added to the total, Republicans have spent more on attack ads.

How Much Do They Have?
Spending more than $400 million on ads is a lot. If the money runs out, so do the candidate's hopes for being sworn in as president. To date, the Obama campaign has raised $655 million and spent about $491 million. The Romney campaign has raised $334 million and spent $255 million, but Romney's donations have shown a sharp increase in the past couple of months, largely because the money is no longer spread over other presumptive Republican nominees.

The Bottom Line
With less than two months remaining until the presidential election, expect to see an increasing number of campaign ads on your TV, computer and mobile device. If you're in one of the top 10 states that analysts have identified as helping to decide the election, you'll likely welcome election day so you can see all of the ads stop. With each passing campaign year, the placement of ads becomes more data-driven and ad spending increases.

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