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Ad spending shows where the presidential campaign is really taking place

President Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers during a campaign stop in Philadelphia on April 18. The campaigns and affiliated groups have spent more on ads in Pennsylvania than in any other state.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers during a campaign stop in Philadelphia on April 18. The campaigns and affiliated groups have spent more on ads in Pennsylvania than in any other state.

If you are one of the lucky people in the most hotly contested presidential states, you are seeing a lot of advertising.

And with just over five months to go until Election Day and only about three-and-a-half months until people start early voting, the deluge is just beginning.

The election is being fought most acutely in seven states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Don’t take our word for it. Look at the actions of the campaigns since March 6, a day after Super Tuesday, the unofficial start to the general election this year:

Overall, $72.1 million has been spent on ads (TV, radio, satellite and digital) in that time in the presidential election, according to an NPR analysis of data from AdImpact, which tracks ad spending.

Almost 70% of that has been spent in the seven key states, especially in Pennsylvania, where $21.2 million has been spent. That means that almost $3 out of every $10 spent is going to one state.

Clearly, the campaigns see the Keystone state as, well, a keystone to this election.

Democrats are outspending Republicans by more than double — $49.2 million to $22.1 million.

Take a look at the spending state by state. In every state, President Biden and his allies are outspending former President Donald Trump and the groups boosting him. In some places, Trump hasn’t been on the air at all.

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Biden’s campaign is the biggest spender of the election so far at $34.2 million and counting. MAGA Inc., an outside group supporting Trump, is second, putting up almost $12 million. Trump’s campaign has spent nearly zilch on ads, just $70,521, as of Friday afternoon. 

Four dollars out of every $5 MAGA Inc. has spent has gone to Pennsylvania. The other $1 is mostly going to Georgia, where it’s spending $1.2 million. Trump and allies have not been on the air at all in four of the Lucky Seven: Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada or Wisconsin.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is running as an independent and is getting double-digits in most national polls, has spent a little over $800,000 total on ads.

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The most-run ad of the campaign so far is this pro-Biden one about protecting the Affordable Care Act. It’s run 7,700 times in 17 days in all seven states.

It’s quite the turn, considering that Obamacare was the reason for Democrats getting “shellacked,” as former President Barack Obama put it, in the 2010 midterm elections.

But that reflects the change in public opinion. Back in January 2014, the ACA’s popularity hit its nadir — 53% unfavorable; just 37% had a favorable opinion of it, according to KFF’s tracking poll. But as of April, 62% have a favorable opinion of the law — the highest ever.

MAGA’s Inc.’s most-run ad is focused on immigration, but it has started to run this one most in the past week, which is focused on the economy (and makes unfounded claims about Biden’s mental faculties).

On the issues, abortion has by far been the focus of the most spending and total number of ads. Some $19 million has been spent on abortion messaging, with 50 different ads.

Next on the list (some ads reference more than one of these) are:

  • immigration: $8.7 million
  • crime: $8.4 million
  • economy: $6.8 million
  • inflation: $5.4 million
  • Obamacare/Affordable Care Act: $5.2 million
  • jobs: $1.8 million

Copyright 2024 NPR

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.