Ad Spending Hints At Key Markets

Reid Wilson
National Journal

More than one-third of Iowa residents live in the Des Moines media market. Just 12 percent live in the Davenport market. And yet both President Obama and Mitt Romney are spending more heavily in Davenport than in the state capital, according to trackers who watch each side's weekly ad spending.

That's because more swing voters live in and around the Quad Cities and along the banks of the Mississippi River than in the middle of the state. In fact, as the campaigns ramp up television ad spending even in the usually sleepy month of August, their targets are good indicators of the media markets that will decide the outcome of the presidential contest.

This week in Iowa, Romney's campaign spent $315,000 on advertisements targeting the Davenport market, and just $221,000 in Des Moines. Obama's team bought $291,000 in Davenport and $243,000 in Des Moines, the data show. Romney bought twice as many gross ratings points -- the measure of how widely an ad is seen -- in swing Charlotte than in Democratic-friendly Raleigh, while Obama bought twice as much television time in Orlando than he did in Miami, even though Miami is a much larger market. 

The weekly spending also highlights the growing cost of advertising as demand is spiking. Back in mid-May, when Crossroads GPS first bought advertising time in the critical Washington media market to target Northern Virginia, a political campaign needed to spend $510 to buy a single point, while an outside group had to spend $600 per point. This week, those rates have shot up to $836 for a campaign and $929 for an outside group.

Battleground Ad Spending

Consequently, nobody's money is going as far as it did just a few months ago. Obama's team spent $1.3 million in the Washington media market, enough to buy an estimated 1,209 points. It spent just $239,000 in the Norfolk market, which earned 2,134 points. Romney's team spent $990,000 on 1,185 points in Washington, and just $267,000 on 2,388 points in Norfolk.

Overall, Obama's campaign spent $10.2 million on television advertising this week, while Romney dropped $8.45 million, both unprecedented amounts for August.

But Republican outside groups are still pouring enough onto TV to outspend Obama by a significant margin. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-backed group based in Alexandria, Va., spent $7.9 million on advertising across 11 states this week, while the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC added another $2.3 million. Combined, Democrats spent $11.2 million on television advertising from August 8-13, while Republicans and Romney's campaign dropped $20.8 million on advertising.

Democrats have still spent more on television since the beginning of the race, but the gap is narrowing rapidly. Democrats have spent $231 million on TV time compared with $226.5 million from Republicans.

The Crossroads organizations continue to lead the pack of outside groups, spending nearly $100 million between the super PAC, American Crossroads, and the 501(c)(4) group, Crossroads GPS. Americans for Prosperity has dropped $25.5 million on TV advertising, while the Obama-backing Priorities Action USA has spent just over $22 million.

Obama's campaign still leads all spenders, at more than $207 million so far.