Advertisers Spent $5.25 Billion on the Midterm Election, 17% More Than in 2016

Local cable doubled its revenue from the 2014 midterms and digital ads almost quadrupled

High-proflle election battles like that between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O'Rourke helped fuel the ad revenue windfall. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

The dust hasn’t completely settled on the 2018 midterm elections yet, with a few races still in limbo. However, broadcast, cable and digital outlets are tallying their ad revenue haul from this year and, not surprisingly, it’s a record-breaker.

In the 2018 midterm elections, $5.25 billion was spent on advertising in local broadcast, local cable and digital, according to Kantar Media, which makes it the most lucrative midterms in history. The 2018 election spending was 78 percent higher than the 2014 midterms, which had a $2.95 billion haul, and even beat the 2016 presidential election spend—$4.47 billion, including $122 million in national buys—by 17 percent.

Digital ads, which ran most often on Facebook and Google, almost quadrupled from 2014, jumping from $250 million to $950 million. The 2016 election digital ad spend was $650 million.

The local broadcast and local cable spends were both greater than the 2016 election year totals.

Local broadcast political ad revenue, at $2.1 billion in 2014, increased to $2.85 billion in 2016 and $3.1 billion in 2018. Local cable, which brought in $600 million in 2014, doubled to $1.2 billion in 2018 and was at $850 million in 2016.

Democrats outspent Republicans in this year’s state and federal races by a 53 percent/46 percent margin. In the 2010 midterms, Republicans held a 54 percent/45 percent lead, as they campaigned heavily against the Affordable Care Act. Four years later, Republicans still led by a 51 percent/47 percent margin.

In other Kantar findings, ads supporting Democratic candidates referenced healthcare 1 million times, accounting for 49 percent of all Democrat ads overall and 59 percent of all Democratic ads for House races. Many of those Democratic ads claimed that Republican candidates were in favor of eliminating health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and frequently tallied the number of residents in the district that would be impacted by such a change. In comparison, just 367,000 of Republican election ads mentioned healthcare. Instead, that party’s spots focused on tax reform, immigration and record levels of employment.

One out of every 10 Democratic spots carried an anti-President Trump message, while one of every 10 Republican ads mentioned House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (for House races, that number jumped to one of every four).

Ahead of Election Day, Alison Monk, evp and managing director of independent planning and buying firm Mercury, told Adweek that “this will be the most complex election our country has ever seen. Local markets are already struggling to handle the deluge of ad requests. We just want them to help make sense and take stock as much as possible so they can optimize their ad loads effectively.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.