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Democrats Spending 2 to 3 Times More on Cable Ads Than Republicans

Although broadcast TV — national and especially local — remains the dominant electronic political advertising avenue, and digital platforms have become the next most-used format, cable has a solid #3 role in campaign marketing this year. Steven Passwaiter, VP/general manager of Kantar CMAG, the agency’s campaign marketing and advertising intelligence unit, unveiled updated political spending data in a presentation on Thursday (Oct. 1) at the Television Bureau of Advertising’s TVB ALT Forward conference.

Steven Passwaiter

Steven Passwaiter, VP/general manager of Kantar CMAG (Image credit: Kantar Media)

Passwaiter’s analysis showed that in the presidential race, the Trump campaign is earmarking 6.86% of its total spending on network cable and 1.29% on local cable and satellite ads. In comparison, the Biden campaign is putting 2.95% of its money into network cable and 17.17% into local cable/satellite. That adds up to about 8% by Trump and 20% from Biden.

Passwaiter did not specify the cable networks or local spot cable placement channels for either campaign’s spending. Nor did he identify the amounts of money out of the estimated $7 billion going into campaign advertising this year.

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For the presidential race, Republicans are spending $594 million, Democrats are spending $580, Passwaiter said, listing several other major Political Action Committee donors and then singling out the $595 million that Michael Bloomberg said he will spend on the general election contributions.

The cable buys are dwarfed by the sums devoted to local broadcast TV this year:  49% of the Democrats’ budgets and 46% of the Republicans spending. Both parties are spending about 3% of their ad budgets on national broadcasting time, he said. The Trump and Biden campaigns are devoting about the same share of their buying to local broadcast:  53.7% from Trump and 49.6% from Biden, according to Passwaiter.

Kantar's summary tallies that within the TV spending category, 70% of spending goes to local broadcast TV, 18% to local cable, 7% of national cable and 5% to national broadcast.

Passwaiter's data about the partisan differences in the presidential race jibed with Kantar CMAG’s overall findings for platform preferences in all campaigns: Democrats are putting 18% of their spending into local cable, while Republicans have allotted 7% to local cable. For national cable ads, it’s the reverse formula: 3% for Democrats, 8% for Republicans.

“It’s surprising that so little Republican spending is on cable,” Passwaiter said in prerecorded remarks to TVB’s virtual event. He called the rapid growth of targeted digital advertising on online platforms (including connected TVs) an example of the popularity of “the cool kid in school.”

“Over-the-top and connective TV is now showing up on nearly every political buy,” he said. His assessment is that Facebook “is having a better year than Google.

Related: ‘September Is the New October’ for Political Advertising

Two other TVB sessions on political campaign advertising drew universal agreement that 2020 has shaped up as the most unusual campaign ever. Republican strategist (and Fox commentator) Karl Rove acknowledged that 1968 and 1992 were also complicated races because of conditions at that time, while Democratic strategist (and CNN analyst David Axelrod) focused on the volatile style of the President this year.

Another session featuring executive directors of Republican and Democratic campaign committees cited the complexity of current issues (especially COVID-19, health care and the economy) this year, although local candidates are taking “very individual” approaches based on the conditions in their jurisdictions.   

All of the political speakers cited the importance of data — which media companies usually can supply — to tailor political messaging this year.    

“We have different tactics for buying TV and digital platforms,” explained Parker Poling, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. She also cited the evolving plans for using mobile and other platforms to meet quick-changing ad creation and placement needs. 

Lucinda Guinn, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, pointed to the new Disinformation Task Force that her organization has established and invited Poling to join in the commitment to stop such phony content. Poling responded with a polite/political non-committal acknowledgement that they can discuss such a mutual plan when the occasion arises.