Ohio May Be Left Out Of 2020 Presidential Spend

Political advertising maven Steve Passwaiter says Ohio may no longer be among the battleground states where the presidential election will be heavily contested so will not draw a lot of presidential advertising. On the other hand, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin have emerged as new battlegrounds. In any event, there will be enough spending at all political levels to make most broadcasters happy — $3.2 billion, up 12% from 2016.

Ohio broadcasters thinking they are going to clean up during the presidential campaign next year may want to think again.

The electoral map is changing, said Steve Passwaiter, who tracks political spending for the research firm Kantar/CMAG at the TVB Forward Conference in New York last week.

Some states long thought of as battlegrounds may not be in 2020, he said, while others long thought of as locks for the Democrat or Republican candidate may be in play.

Ohio, for instance, may lose its battleground status, he said. “The Trump people think they have Ohio in the bag.”

On the other hand, three states that Trump narrowly won in 2016 will be fiercely contested in 2020 — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. “There is going to be a battle royale for the three states.”

Because the counts were close, he said, the Democrats believe they can win them back. “It’s not something that can’t be done.”


And Arizona may be a battleground, too, he said. Think of it as replacing Nevada, which has fallen solidly into the Democratic column as have Colorado and Virginia, he said.

Other likely 2020 battlegrounds: Iowa, Florida and North Carolina.

Four other states could draw more money than expected, depending on how the campaigning and polling go, he said. The Democrats think they can flip Georgia and Texas from red to blue and Trump thinks he can win in New Mexico and Minnesota.

From a broadcaster’s perspective, it’s great to be in a battleground state, but, according to Passwaiter, there will be plenty of political ad dollars to go around. Most broadcasters will benefit, if not at the presidential level, then at the Senate, House and state levels.

According to Passwaiter, the political spending will total $5.6 billion next year, with $3.2 billion going to TV stations. Cable and digital will split the other $2.4 billion down the middle.

Although broadcasting will get the most, its share of the political dollars will slip from 66% in 2016, the last presidential election year used for comparison, to 57% in 2020.

The lost share reflects the faster growth of the other media. Digital’s take will double from 2016, while cable will be up 41%. Broadcasting’s dollars will grow just 12%.

About 60% of the 2020 digital dollars will go to Facebook and Google, Passwaiter said.

Despite the big dollars, he said he is uncertain whether Facebook will continue to accept political ad money. The company is under pressure to stop the spread of disinformation and trying to do that has proved to be “a tremendous hassle.”

He noted that Facebook has already stopped paying commissions to outside sales people for political advertising.

Political advertising has been growing rapidly, but there is a limit, Passwaiter said.

Only about 60% of all the money that campaigns raise goes to advertising, he said. So, for the political advertising spending to go to, say, $10 billion, campaigns would have to raise $16 billion, he said. “That would be Herculean, to say the least.”

He said that the second quarter of 2020 could become a “sugar high” for broadcaster if the Democratic presidential primaries remain competitive into the quarter.

But it would not be good for spending in the general election in the fall, he said. “They are not going to have enough time and money to get out there, unite the party and fundraise in the way they are going to want to do it.”

He also said there probably would not be a lot of advertising directed at early voting. Research suggests that early voters have made up their minds, he said. The voters who are persuadable by advertising are those who show up on election day.

“Have a good sales season,” Passwaiter said as he wrapped up his presentation. “There is going to be money there for you. Got get it.”

During a panel that followed, the heads of two media agencies specializing in political buying gave broadcasters more pointed advice.

Don’t be too greedy, said Mark Putnam of Putnam Partners. “The rates are staying the same, but the ratings are not what they used to be.”

Campaigns are under budgetary constraints and have to make hard choices on where they place their ads, he said. “If you are able to come down a little bit, you might not see as much market share going to the other mediums.”

Putnam said he recognizes that stations have to accommodate their regular advertisers, but they can’t do it at the expense of candidates whose ads must run prior to election day. They are not interested in refunds, he said. “If an ad gets bumped, find another place to run it.”

Kyle Roberts, of the Smart Media Group, was concerned about station staffing, especially in the eight weeks leading into the election when 60% of the money pours in. Agencies want to know that their orders will be handled efficiently and correctly, he said. “Make sure that you are prepared.”

Roberts also pointed out that the agencies are investing heavily in breaking down the voter rolls and figuring out what TV programs different types of voters and would-be voters are watching.

“We have a lot of information on our end. You guys have to make sure you are up on the technology as well — that you really know your audience because sometimes it’s not clear that you do.”

Comments (2)

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mediarat says:

September 30, 2019 at 11:12 am

How many Americans facing hunger could benefit from taking all the billions being spent on useless political advertising? We need to reconsider how America does politics.

[email protected] says:

September 30, 2019 at 11:26 pm

Michigan isn’t a battleground it has gone blue from 92-12 I was surprised that Trump won Michigan in 16 the last time Michigan went red was in 88 when Bush 41 won the state. I don’t see Trump winning Michigan just my opinion and would be a waste to spend money in this state I enjoyed 08 & 12 where there wasn’t a lot of spending as McCain pulled out in Oct of 08 & Mitt didn’t run any ad’s in Michigan in 12 Obama did at the end a couple of weeks before the election.