Why Broadcast TV Is Still the Media of Choice for Political Ads

By A.J. Katz 

As much as 90 percent of the money raised by political donors goes toward broadcast TV ads, so says Alixandria Lapp, executive director of the House Majority PAC. Lapp along with Mike Shields, President of the American Action Network, took part in a panel discussion about the ad spend so far in the 2016 race.

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos was set to moderate the panel, but had to cancel so he could continue to cover the crash of a commuter train in New Jersey this morning. Taylor Gross of The Herald Group stepped in as moderator.

Lapp and Shields said their organizations concentrate the overwhelming majority of the ad spend on local broadcast television, as opposed to cable, digital and mail, both direct and electronic. “We have done experiments to try to measure the impact of broadcast vs mail vs digital… There’s just no question, broadcast has the biggest impact,” said Lapp, whose organization focuses on helping Democratic candidates. “Even if you are ‘wasting’ money because your ads are also going outside the voting district, broadcast is still the best way to reach the people you need to reach.”


Shields talked about spending for the presidential race compared to House and Senate races. “A presidential campaign gets so much media… at that level you can get so much coverage that advertising sort of supplements it but for a house candidate, they really have to be on TV to get a message through or for people to know their name,” said Shields, whose organization focuses on helping Republican candidates. “So the impact for a House race is just completely different that a presidential race.”

These sentiments seem to match up with what research company GfK has found. The market research company fielded a study in Kentucky right after the state’s competitive gubernatorial race in November 2015.  70 percent of the respondents rated TV as the most important medium for issue awareness. 51 percent cited TV as most important in getting them to pull the lever, which was almost 9-times the number of respondents citing social media.

Advice from the Super PACs for local broadcasters? “It all about data…data for how your television is targeted…data on voting habits and viewing habits and information on competitors,” said Shields. “We need more information on viewers, by program, by hour, not just by day part, but specifics.”

political ad spend panel