Over $100 Million Spent on Presidential Campagin TV Ads to Date but Little - Nothing in Super Tuesday Ads

Iowa, New Hampshire Heaviest Hit; Dems, GOP Equal Until Now Clinton, Obama Also Equal; Romney 3-1 More Than McCain

GOP: Taxes, Defense, Abortion, Immigration
Dems: Health Care, Health Care, Health Care

Obama 100% Positive;
“Change” is on the air

MADISON, WI – Presidential candidates have spent $107 million on television advertising so far this season, with nearly all of it having been spent in the weeks and months leading up to the earliest primaries and caucuses and almost none of it on Super Tuesday states. Although Mitt Romney announced yesterday plans to go up on the air, no Republican candidate had advertised by last Sunday in Super Tuesday states.

Democrats and Republicans aired roughly 150,000 ads total during this time, spending approximately the same amount on an air campaign that was mostly positive but lopsided within the GOP. Although Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spent somewhat similarly on TV (Obama only slightly higher), Republican Mitt Romney spent as much as all of his opponents combined – and almost four times as much as John McCain in Florida. Yet McCain bested Romney in Florida, as he did in New Hampshire and South Carolina, despite the disadvantage.

While Republican ads featured the issues of taxes, defense (including Iraq, veterans and terrorism), abortion and immigration, Democrats all led with health care – followed by economic issues (housing, poverty and jobs). 90% of nearly all candidates’ ads were judged “positive,” with only 10% determined to be “contrast” in nature and none “negative,” save for eleven ads aired by Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Only Democrat John Edwards named his two leading opponents in over 80% of his TV advertising.

Obama and Romney were the candidates of “change,” repeating that mantra in one-third of their ads, while Clinton, slow to embrace the term in her messaging, still managed to use it in more than one-quarter of her TV spots. In the mean time, her “experience” was featured in slightly more of her ads than change.

These are among the findings of a new report from the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project that analyzed data obtained from the TNS Media Intelligence Campaign Media Analysis Group (TNSMI/CMAG). The report analyses political television advertising in 90% of TV households across the country and include all data through Sunday, January 27.

Ken Goldstein, a political science professor and the director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, says, “Although Romney is now up and Obama has just increased his ad buy, it is extremely unlikely that spending in all 23 February 5th states – including the two largest states in the country – will reach the levels seen in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Overall numbers

Through Sunday, Democrats running for president have aired 83,320 advertisements on broadcast TV, with an estimated value of over $57 million. Barack Obama led the pack with almost 30,000 ads, worth almost $23 million, and then Hillary Clinton, with more than 25,500 ads, worth well over $18 million. John Edwards trailed far behind, with merely half of what Clinton bought and Bill Richardson at half of that. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden trailed.

On the Republican side, GOP candidates broadcast 67,798 TV ads over the same period, worth an estimated $50 million. Mitt Romney alone, accounted for almost 35,000 of those, spending nearly $29 million on them. John McCain was far behind, with less than one-third as many/much and Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Fred Thompson further behind still.

Meanwhile, third-party groups, spending independently and not in coordination with the campaigns, also got an early start this cycle. They accounted for another nearly 5000 ads and three million more dollars worth of chatter in the campaign.


CITE SOURCE OF DATA IN TABLE AS TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG with analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project

Where they played

Not surprisingly, Iowa and New Hampshire led all other states in markets – including adjacent markets like Boston or Omaha – targeted for presidential campaign ads. They were followed by South Carolina, Nevada, Florida and Michigan far behind. Voters in and around Des Moines saw almost 22,000 ads this campaign, worth more than $15 million, while their New Hampshire counterparts – those watching Manchester and Boston TV anyway, saw about exactly the same.

In fact, the lone TV station in Manchester, New Hampshire, WMUR-TV, saw 14,000 ads alone with more money spent there than in all Super Tuesday states combined.

Through Sunday, only $8 million had been spent in Super Tuesday states on TV – $3 million in California alone – yet nine days out from the New Hampshire primary, $26 million had been spent there, and at the same point before the Iowa caucuses, $36 million had been spent there.

Furthermore, as of last Sunday, all of the spending had been on the Democratic side by Obama and Clinton. “Talk about a compressed Super Tuesday campaign,” Goldstein says. “Until this week, no Republican was on TV in these key states at all.”


Iowa $43 million
New Hampshire 32
South Carolina 13
Florida* 10
Michigan* 4
Nevada 2.5

*no Democratic spending
CITE SOURCE OF DATA IN TABLE AS TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG with analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project

What they said

Whereas Republican candidates led the majority of their TV commercials with a variety of traditional conservative issues - taxes, defense (including Iraq, veterans and terrorism), abortion and immigration, all three leading Democrats led with the same issue – health care. Then came economic issues (housing, poverty and jobs), government ethics and energy.

“Change” was as popular a word for some candidates as health care was an issue for Democrats. 37% of all of Obama’s ads mentioned the word “change,” while none used the word “experience.” But of the ads Hillary Clinton aired, 27 percent mentioned change and 30 percent used experience. Meanwhile, more than 29% of Romney’s ads also used the word change.

But if “change” has been a big word in presidential campaign ads so far the year, the American flag has been the most popular image. McCain wrapped himself in the flag more than any other leading candidate, with 77% of his TV ads displaying the patriotic image. Close behind was Giuliani, with 65% of his spots doing the same, and Romney with 44% of his. On the Democratic side, John Edwards used the flag 49% of the time, Obama 40% and Clinton just 33%.

Sometimes, though, who delivers the message can be as important as what it says or how it looks. Among Democrats, Barack Obama narrated nearly 83% of his own TV ads, while Hillary Clinton narrated fewer than half (43 percent) of hers.

“The Clinton and the Obama campaigns employed different styles in their advertising,” Goldstein observes. “Senator Obama spoke in more than eight in ten of his television ads with most containing selections from his speeches. On the other hand, Senator Clinton spoke in less than half her ads, leaving the narration to others.”

How they said it

John Edwards was the most likely to contrast himself with other candidates in his advertising.  81% of Edwards’ ads were contrast ads and in virtually all he criticized Obama and Clinton.  “So, while most of the attention in the free media went to flare-ups between Clinton and Obama,” Goldstein says, “Edwards was most likely to focus on his competitors in the paid media.”

While the tone of debates and candidate speeches may have become a bit more heated, the tone of advertising has been overwhelmingly positive. Over 90 percent of ads aired in the presidential race to date have been positive – in which the candidates only talk about themselves and their record. On the Democratic side, all of Obama’s ads were positive while nearly nine in ten (89 percent) of Clinton’s ads were positive. The other 11 percent of Clinton ads were contrast ads, which, save for a few, the focus of her criticism was on someone not on the ballot - President Bush.

And the only pure negative ad aired by a candidate to date was aired by Mike Huckabee. The ad, criticizing Mitt Romney, was pulled, but not before it aired 11 times in Iowa markets.

The study

Using data obtained from the TNS Media Intelligence Campaign Media Analysis Group (TNSMI/CMAG), the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project codes and analyzes nearly all of the political advertising that is aired in 2008 federal and gubernatorial races across the country. The Ad Project, considered the single most important and credible source of information on campaign TV advertising, is funded in 2008 by a grant from the Joyce Foundation.


The Wisconsin Advertising Project codes political television advertising for sponsors, issues, tone, and numerous other characteristics – all in real time.  While most of the attention will be focused on the presidential race in 2008, it also tracks candidate, party, and interest group advertisements in congressional, gubernatorial and other down ballot races nationwide, with a particular focus on the Midwest and the five states that comprise the Midwest Democracy Network (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.)  Findings will be released in a series of real time reports over the course of the campaign.


Ken Goldstein, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the co-author of Campaign Advertising in American Democracy (Temple University Press), directs the Advertising Project. Goldstein has overall responsibility for the project and is available to work with media and policy makers during the entire course of the 2008 election year.


The Wisconsin Advertising Project coded virtually every significant political advertisement broadcast in the top 75 markets in 2000 and in the top 100 media markets from 2001 to 2004.  In this process, using videos and storyboards of ads captured by TNSMI/CMAG, project staff first research the entity responsible for airing each separate political spot aired.  In relation to campaign finance regulations as well as noting the names of sponsors, the project categorizes sponsors between those paid for by candidates, parties, hard money interest groups and soft money interest groups.  Each spot is then further researched to attribute it to a specific candidate that the ad sponsors hope to elect.  Once this is done, project staff codes the content of each ad, using a battery of questions.


This extensive coding allows for the compilation of a massive database of the content of commercials that can be used in a variety of ways by scholars, the media and policymakers.


The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project is affiliated with the university’s Political Science Department. This department is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected programs. It is highly ranked in national surveys and its award-winning faculty are known for innovative research on the discipline’s most current and important questions.

With a reputation for unbiased and non-partisan analysis, Goldstein is a favorite source for both politicians and the news media.  He has appeared numerous times on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Nightline, ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, FOX News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC and CNN, and is a frequent contributor on National Public Radio.  He is also quoted extensively in the country’s top newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.


Based in Chicago, with assets of $935 million, the Joyce Foundation funds groups working to strengthen public policies and improve the quality of life in the Great Lakes region.  Its Money and Politics program supports efforts to promote a well-functioning representative democracy with open and accountable government, informed citizen participation, competition of ideas and candidates, fair and equal application of the laws, a high level of public trust and protection of fundamental rights.  Other funding areas are education, workforce development, environment, gun violence prevention and culture.

TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG is the leading provider of advertising tracking and analysis of political public affairs and issue-advocacy advertising.  TNSMI/CMAG provides customized media analysis services to national trade associations, foundations, Fortune 100 companies, national media organizations, academia and hundreds of national, statewide and local political campaigns. Clients rely on TNSMI/CMAG’s experienced political researchers to assemble the most reliable, comprehensive research and reporting.  TNSMI/CMAG’s customized reporting methods help its clients better manage their media strategy, media buys, public relations and communications efforts.


For more information on the report or the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, please contact Aaron Keyak or Steve Rabinowitz at 202-265-3000. Learn more about the book Campaign Advertising in American Democracy.