America’s Midterm Elections Bring $900m Ad Bonanza

06 November 2002

Vote-soliciting ads by candidates and special-interest groups in Tuesday’s midterm elections have boosted America’s flagging media and advertising industries to the tune of $900 million (€898.7m; £576.0m).

In all, 435 seats in the currently deadlocked House of Representatives were up for grabs, while 34 Senate seats were put on the on the line and the immaculately coiffed spouses of 72 gubernatorial candidates wondered if they would get to choose the new curtains in 36 governors’ mansions

Almost 1.4 million political TV ads were aired between January 1 and November 1, according to data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Adspend soared by over eighty percent on the $499m spent during the last midterms in 1998.

Not all were run by hopeful candidates – advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club (dedicated to saving the planet) and the National Rifle Association (dedicated to blasting it) also shelled-out megabucks to persuade their fellow citizens to vote for those politicos supporting their respective causes.

Paradoxically, it was not megalopoli like New York and Los Angeles that were most heavily blitzed by political ads – although those regions’ media enjoyed the greatest dollar windfalls. But in terms of intensive ad carpet-bombing, the luckless citizens of Austin, Texas (24,876 ads); Greenville, South Carolina with Asheville, North Carolina (22,325); and Davenport, Iowa with Rock Island, Illinois (21,703) led the nation.

Observes Paul Taylor of the Alliance for Better Campaigns which lobbies for free electioneering airtime: “There's no question that the single biggest reason candidates spend so much time raising money is the high cost of communicating their message, and that cost is rising at a breakneck pace. It distorts the entire political process.”

But Taylor is a puny David to the Goliath of the National Association of Broadcasters, which purports to support the principle of free airtime for candidates while robustly opposing any move by the government to make this mandatory.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff