Jan 7, 2016

An Advertising Analysis: The 2016 Presidential Election

As we say farewell to the old and ring in the new, we thought we’d devote our very first blog of 2016 to what promises to be a fascinating Presidential election year in which the American electorate will not only choose its 45th President, but also vote on the entire House of Representatives (with all 435 seats up for grabs) and one-third of all Senate seats.

And state-wide, there are numerous Gubernatorial and Senatorial races, not to mention countless local elections from Mayors and Judges, to local District Attorneys, Town Supervisors and City Managers.

The 2016 Presidential election will be notable if for no other reason than there’ll be no incumbent running, which hasn’t happened since the hotly contested election of 2000 between Al Gore and George Bush. But the 2016 election promises to be very different than the one sixteen years ago due to the Supreme Court decision for Citizens United which enabled corporations and unions to dramatically increase their political spending. That, in turn, led to the creation of Super PACs that can raise money from just about anyone – from individuals to formal organizations. And there’s no limit on the size of donations. There is also a flood of political dollars from what I call the “political abbreviations”, such as the RGA (Republican Governors Association); DGA (Democratic Governors Association); NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee); and the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.)

The anticipated rise in political dollars for 2016 (one source, Kantar/CMAG, places the figure at $800 Million alone for local cable advertising) is about to meet head-on with a highly polarized American electorate that mirrors our divided national Congress. Add to that the rancorous debates between a bevy of Republican Candidates (including the business mogul and TV personality – Donald J. Trump) and you have all the makings of a first class drama that is sure to keep Americans engaged all year long.

Perhaps a harbinger of things to come can be seen in the breath-taking rating levels captured by the six candidate debates that took place between August and December (2015.) Four years ago (in 2011), the candidate debates leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election averaged a 2.3 U.S. average rating (good for a 3.6 share.) In 2015, the candidate debates generated audience levels over 4-times higher:

 

The remarkable viewing levels for the 2015 debates weren’t just a fluke of scheduling, or one particular debate that drove average ratings higher. As can be seen in the graph below, all of the debates performed admirably with all but one winning its network time slot (see table):

 

 

 

Local Cable Political Advertising

As we enter into the New Year, we decided to take a look back on 2012 to get a sense of the ebb and flow of political ad spending during a presidential election year. Overall, from January through October (2012), political advertising at Viamedia comprised approximately 21% of total advertising dollars. But there was significant variation around that average which can be characterized as follows:  a modest level of activity in the first quarter; a significant surge in the spring; a steady level during the summer months; and then a title wave in September and October leading up to the early November elections:

 

While it’s just a sampling of a half dozen programming events, we also decided to take a look at Viamedia advertisers across the 2015 Presidential Debates. Overall, demand was very strong with over 280 advertisers ordering over 1,700 30-second spots across 51 Viamedia markets (70% of our national footprint.) That comes to about six spots per advertisers.

(Source: Viamedia internal analysis of B.I.G.SM    database (Sports & High Profile Tracker module). Copyright © 2016 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Not surprisingly, the Automotive and Political categories captured the lion’s share of advertising – 38% and 19% respectively. (As an aside, the 19% share for Political is not that far off from that category’s share of total dollars during the 2012 Presidential Election year -- i.e., 21%.) In any event, we took a deeper look at the Political share of the total local cable revenue pie and found the following breakouts below. Given that there was only one Democratic Candidate debate, it is not surprising that nearly 70% of all political dollars were from the Republican side of the aisle. Note as well that over one-half all dollars were from a variety of PACs (regardless of political affiliation):

 

The Road Ahead

As I write this blog there are still a few grains of sand left in the 2015 hourglass, but here at Viamedia we are already seeing a surge in political ad spending for the first quarter of 2016. But maybe that shouldn’t come as such a surprise. Between the numerous viable Republican Presidential candidates still in the field; the sheer number of national, local and state-wide races; the ever-widening gulf between the two major political parties; and the unfettered amount of political spending from numerous Super PACs, the new year for political advertising may shatter even the rosiest of forecasts. Stay tuned.

Topics: political

Jonathan Sims

Written by Jonathan Sims

A media & marketing research executive in the forefront of cutting edge ROI measurement and multi-platform engagement. Before joining Viamedia as Vice President, Research, Sims held the position of V.P., Product Management at TRA, Inc. Prior to TRA, Inc., Sims was the Head of Corporate Research at Comcast Spotlight. Originally from New Rochelle, New York, Sims resides in the nearby town of Rye Brook where he and his wife raised their daughter. In his spare time, Sims enjoys reading history, rooting for the New York Giants and rollerblading, especially when the weather is warm and the roads are smooth.

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