Can Trump’s $10 Million Ad Buy Turn the Tide for His Campaign?
Policy + Politics

Can Trump’s $10 Million Ad Buy Turn the Tide for His Campaign?

© ERIC THAYER / Reuters

Donald Trump’s campaign has finally begun to step up its media campaign, unveiling a new ad in nine key battleground states attacking Hillary Clinton on the economy.

In only the second round of major ad buys since the start of the general election campaign in late June, Trump’s campaign is spending $10 million over the coming week in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. The ad, entitled “Two Americas: Economy” – attempts to contrast Trump’s economic plans from Clinton’s.

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“In Hillary Clinton’s America, the middle class gets crushed, spending goes up, taxes go up, hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear. It’s more of the same — but worse,” the narrator asserts. “In Donald Trump’s America working families get tax relief, millions of new jobs created, wages go up, small businesses thrive, the American dream — achievable. Change that makes America great again.”

But Trump’s campaign and allied groups remain woefully behind Clinton and her Super PACs in spending on TV ads. Clinton’s tens of millions of dollars of media buys have for the most part hammered away at Trump, often using his own words to belittle the GOP nominee as a dangerous and racially intolerant person who is unfit to be commander in chief. Trump until recently has spent nothing on paid media, instead attempting to get by with “earned media” from coverage of political rallies and interviews on Sunday talk shows and cable news. 

The vast disparity in spending on more traditional campaign media may help explain why Clinton leads Trump in both national polls and surveys in key battleground states despite numerous political problems of her own, including persistent controversies over her handling of top secret documents and emails while secretary of state and cozy relations between the State Department and Clinton’s family foundation. Politico noted just last week that Clinton has faced fewer TV attack ads in the 2016 campaign than Marco Rubio. Strategists from both parties told the site that Clinton “has gone deeper into the election calendar than any non-incumbent president they can remember in the modern era without sustained, paid opposition on television.”

An estimated $517 million has been spent so far by both parties on presidential campaign media during the 2015-2016 election cycle, according to a new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project and the Center for Responsive Politics. That represents about a third of the $1.56 billion spent so far on all political advertising, including for congressional and gubernatorial races. 

According to the analysis, Clinton’s campaign over the past year and a half has aired more than 70,000 ads at an estimated cost of $57 million, while Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Clinton, has aired 28,000 ads at an estimated cost of $26.7 million. That totals $83 million in overall spending on Clinton’s behalf to produce 98,000 ads, most of them targeted to battleground states. 

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Before mid-August, the Trump campaign had purchased no ads on broadcast television. That changed on Aug. 19, when Trump’s campaign began airing ads focusing on illegal immigration and terrorism issues in 19 media markets in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. A pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now PAC, supplemented that spending by airing about 5,000 ads at an estimated cost of $5.4 million. The NRA Political Victory Fund has also aired over 3,600 ads supporting Trump, according to the analysis.

Ad Totals

And now Trump is broadening his on-air attack with only 71 days remaining in the campaign. 

“We haven’t seen a modern presidential campaign that is so lopsided in terms of advertising,” Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, said in a statement accompanying the analysis. “It’s tough to parse out advertising’s contribution to Clinton’s current lead in polls relative to other factors, but there is little doubt that Trump could use more disciplined messaging on air right now – precisely the kind of messaging typically provided by television advertising.” 

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The Wesleyan Media Project study, based on an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data, shows that ground zero of the campaign media wars are Florida and Ohio. The Tampa market has seen the most presidential campaign ads since June 8, a total of 6,553, followed by Orlando with 5,723 ads aired. Cleveland comes in second, with just over 5,000 ads airing during that period, followed by relatively heavy saturation in North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and Pennsylvania. 

Clinton and her allies have dominated the ad spending in many of those states. And with polls showing Clinton well ahead of Trump in two of those battleground states, Virginia and Colorado, her campaign has felt comfortable enough to pull ads from those states for the time being. 

Since Trump’s first general election ad buy this month, media markets in Florida (Tampa, Orlando and West Palm Beach) and Ohio (Columbus and Toledo) have become more “competitive,” according to the Wesleyan Media report. However, Clinton “maintained large advantages in markets in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa and Nevada,” the study said. 

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President Obama carried North Carolina in 2008, but the conservative leaning state voted for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Now Clinton and her advisers believe they have a chance of bringing the state back into the Democratic column and are funneling resources there. 

“Judging by where advertisers are putting their money, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina are the biggest presidential battlegrounds in 2016,” said Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, in a statement. “These swing states have not changed much, if any, from four years ago.”