From January 1, 2015 to October 30, 2016, $2.3 billion was spent on political ads on broadcast stations across the country for races up and down the ballot.
In the presidential election, including the primary and general election phases of the campaign, candidates and supportive organizations aired over 900,000 ads for over $750 million.
Are Political Ads Relevant in the Age of Trump?
Political ads are still important tools for campaigns to use to get their message across. Viamedia found that winning Senate campaigns in battleground states aired more political ads in local cable TV advertising. However, looking at the national level may be a different story.
Hillary Clinton and her supporters outspent Team Donald Trump – $460 million to $185 million – in political advertising. While there were a lot of factors that led to Clinton’s defeat, on main problem was that voters didn’t resonate with her message.
Plus, Democrats had to compete against Trump’s unprecedented amount of earned media – which The New York Times valued at around $400 million in February 2016 alone. To put that in perspective, that is about what John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential campaign. By the end of the Trump’s campaign, the free media he earned was worth over billions of dollars.
Internet Archive’s TV News Archive and GDELT Project found that during the election, Trump’s name was mentioned over 1.3 million times in the media, while Clinton was mentioned only 640,000.
Attacking Character Over Policy
Additionally, a research team with the Political Advertising Research Center at the University of Maryland compared all the political ads from the candidates and noticed a certain trend. Political ads from the candidates and their supporters pushed negative and divisive messages that the group believes helped “deepen the anxiety and cynicism” throughout the country.
The same research team found that, in 2016, character ads made up 76% of the TV political ads from the general election. To compare, between 1952 and 2008, 31% of the general election ads were character-based.
It shows that the Clinton and Trump campaigns, as well as their supporting super PACs, attacked the opposition through appeals to fear and anger over positive emotions like joy and love.
The Pew Center reports, “More than half of Democrats (55 percent) say the Republican Party makes them ‘afraid,’ while 49 percent of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party.”