The 2014 election is over — in nearly every race — and voters can now turn on their televisions without being inundated with political ads. Here’s a tally of how the TV ad wars played out, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
- The big numbers: More than 1 million TV ads aired for U.S. Senate races, while more than 1.4 million ads ran about state-level races.
- Thirty-six races on two stages: Ads for the 36 governorships at stake cost an estimated $583 million, while ads for the 36 U.S. Senate seats cost an estimated $477 million in airtime.
- Hottest TV ad war: The most expensive race overall was Florida governor’s contest at $98 million, with ads supporting Republican Gov. Rick Scott outnumbering ads supporting Democratic nominee Charlie Crist and his running mate by almost 2-to-1.
- Most negative state: Florida also had the most negative ads in the nation, with more than 96,600 airings of attack ads — more than the total number of political ads that ran in 39 states. North Carolina came in second with more than 89,200 negative ads, mostly in the U.S. Senate race in which Republican Thom Tillis ousted Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat.
- Hottest U.S. Senate races: Six U.S. Senate battlegrounds accounted for more than half of all U.S. Senate-focused TV advertising. North Carolina had 114,300 ads, followed by Iowa (where 97,500 ads aired), Kentucky (88,300), Louisiana (78,100), Georgia (75,300) and Colorado (67,400). Republican candidates prevailed in five out of six of these states. The sixth — Louisiana — won’t be decided until a Dec. 6 runoff between Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Ads continue to run there.
- Bigfoot ballot measures: With an estimated $107.5 million in TV ads, more was spent on the airwaves for California’s six statewide ballot measures than on any single elective office in the country. That was more than half of the $204 million spent buying airtime for the 158 statewide ballot measures nationwide. Another $20.7 million was spent on local measures around the country.
- Most airtime: The candidates whose campaigns bought the most ad spots were: Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott (45,600 spots), Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (40,600), Louisiana’s Landrieu (29,200), Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (27,500) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who aired about 25,600 ads. Only Quinn lost; Landrieu’s race has not been decided.
- Campaigns still dominate: Senate candidates were solely responsible for about 52 percent of all U.S. Senate-focused TV ads, while state-level candidates were responsible for two-thirds of ads. Political parties accounted for less than 14 percent.
- Outsiders chime in: In U.S. Senate races about 37 percent of the ads were sponsored by non-party groups, such as political action committees, trade associations, unions, super PACs and other politically active organizations. On state-level races, such groups bought about 20 percent of the ads, far more than the nearly 13 percent in 2010.
- Secretive groups on the rise: In six of the hottest U.S. Senate races, groups that do not disclose their donors accounted for at least one of every five TV ads. And three of the top five outside groups active in U.S. Senate races fell into that category: Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove (which aired 30,900 TV ads in U.S. Senate races); Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit supported by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch (28,300); and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (17,000).
Help support this work
Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.