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Elections 2024: Initial Projections for 2024 Political Media Buying

Contributor: Dr. Leo Kivijarv, EVP/Research, PQ Media

Last week’s post focused on the 20 unknowns of this year’s political cycle. This week, the focus will be on political media buying, trends and broadcast radio’s role and opportunities.

Fundraising

In 2023, headlines abounded during special elections, such as those for state judge of Wisconsin, in which more money was raised than ever before, and subsequently spent, particularly on political media buying. In 2020, approximately $15 billion was raised by candidates, both parties and most importantly by local or state political action committees (PACs) and the larger national SuperPACs. Early projections made in 2023 saw estimates of over $20 billion being raised for the 2024 election. Approximately 60% to 75% of the dollars raised to pay for political advertising and marketing, with the rest earmarked for staff salaries and consultant fees, campaign headquarters, including rent, utilities and supplies and hospitality services, like hotels, airlines/buses and food, among other line items. As a result, it is estimated by all political media buying experts, including PQ Media, that we’ll see record-breaking political media buying in 2024.

Overall Political Media Buying

As the only source that looks at all media platforms and channels, not just the major ad platforms like television, digital media and radio, PQ Media projects that total political media buying will reach $14.6 billion in 2024, representing a 44.4% increase from the $10.1 billion spent during the 2020 campaign. This total is based on Trump receiving the nomination and being allowed to run for election. It would be a higher number if Trump would not have been allowed to run for election, as we believe Trump will mirror his 2016 campaign strategy to limit television media buying to the last few weeks of the election and use free “earned media” to get across his message. The term “earned media” became popular during the 2016 presidential election when Trump would type some controversial Twitter tweets (now X) or say something outrageous during interviews and rallies, which in turn would be covered by all the major news outlets. As such, during the 2024 primaries, Trump reverted to earned media and spent less than every major Republican candidate, handily defeating each of his opponents in most primary elections (Haley won the District of Columbia). Since the primaries, his trials have provided the fodder for him to sprout on his website, Truth Social, which is again being covered by the media.

Unique Media Buying Patterns in 2024

PQ Media is predicting that for the first time during a leap year election (which includes a presidential race), more money will be spent on Senate races than on the presidential election: $4.5 billion versus $4.2 billion, respectively. Subsequently, we’ll also see a larger share of overall spending on down-ballot elections, including gubernatorial races and referendums, representing an 18.1% share, compared with 14.5% in 2020.

Another thing that makes 2024 unique, when compared with previous election cycles over the past five decades, is that there was virtually no primary season. With Biden as the incumbent, Democrats spent very little during the primaries, as expected. However, there was the potential of over two dozen Republican candidates in 2022 when the press began to postulate who would run in 2024. Some of these candidates chose not to run, including former Wyoming representative Liz Cheney, current Utah Senator, Mitt Romney and current Texas Governor Greg Abbott. By mid-2023, it was down to eight candidates who were doing serious fundraising. However, by the end of the year, the number dwindled during the initial candidate debates when certain candidates were left off the podium for insufficient poll numbers, such as Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and current Florida Senator Rick Scott. By the first primary in Iowa in 2024, it was down to four serious contenders – Trump, Haley, DeSantis and Ramaswamy, and by the second primary in New Hampshire, only Haley and Trump remained standing. After South Carolina and the first Super Tuesday, Trump remained the only viable candidate. As a result, only a projected 11% share of overall political media buying was spent during the primaries, down from 25% to 33% in previous election cycles. Most of the $1.7 billion spent during the primaries were for contentious Senate and House seats up from grabs, such as the California race to replace the late Dianne Feinstein. Because there is more money left over from the primaries, approximately 65% of overall spending will occur after Labor Day. Usually, the figure is around 50%.

California is also the subject of another uniqueness of the 2024 election – large cities never before viewed as battleground regions have become so during this election. In past elections, in major California designated market areas (DMAs), such as Los Angeles, media operators would usually make the lion’s share of political media buying from controversial referendums, such as Proposition 13 in 1978 on taxes and Proposition 11 during the 2008 elections on voting. However, during the 2018 and 2020 elections, Democratic candidates surprisingly won Republican-dominated seats in Orange County, which are again toss-ups in 2024, making Los Angeles a hotbed for outside political contributions. Similarly, the New York City region has become a battleground due to the election, and subsequent expulsion, of Representative George Santos, which has made affluent Long Island a battleground region compared with previous elections when only upper New York state between Buffalo and Albany had contentious races, which continues to be true in 2024.

Ongoing Trends

What is similar to previous election cycles is that some states will over-index in political media buying because of the number of contentious races. For example, Arizona is considered a toss-up in the presidential, senate and two house seats elections. As a result, DMAs in the state, such as Phoenix-Prescott, will receive significant additional dollars compared with previous elections. Other states that meet this criterion include Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (along with previously referenced New York and California).

Many presidential election cycles have had a new medium that becomes the hot commodity to buy, sometimes referred to as the “flavor of the month.” It happened with newspapers and direct mail at the advent of this nation in the late 1700s, to magazines after the Civil War, to radio after World War I, to broadcast television after World War II, to cable television after the Iran hostage situation, to the internet after the controversial Bush-Gore outcome, to mobile media after smartphones were introduced around the time of the Obama administration. In 2024, it’s streaming media. Streaming video political advertising will exhibit a soaring 488% growth since compared with the 2020 election, when most streaming services did not have an ad-supported tier, like Netflix. Meanwhile, much of radio/audio advertising’s 35% gain in 2024 will be attributable to its digital media extensions, including podcasting and subscription services, such as Spotify. Mobile media will continue its meteoric rise with a 105% increase in 2024. An anomaly is experiential marketing – the money spent to throw events, such as the Republican and Democratic national conventions, as well as Trump and Biden rallies. It will post a 263% gain in 2024 because most experiential marketing was shuttered in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, with most events, including the conventions, held virtually. Broadcast television will post its lowest growth in decades, up only 23% in 2024, exceeding only the internet, telemarketing and direct mail’s growth rates.

Despite its low growth rate, broadcast television will continue to be the elephant in the room, generating $5.6 billion in political media buying. That will represent only a 37.9% share of overall political media buying, down from 44.5% in 2020 and 55.8% at the beginning of the century during the 2000 elections. Other top-five media platforms include direct mail, streaming video, cable TV and the internet (used mainly for fundraising and e-mail marketing), which combined would only be approximately $300 million more than being spent just on broadcast TV.

Where Does Radio Fit?

As referenced earlier, radio is projected to register a solid 35% growth rate during the 2024 elections, which ranks eighth out of the 14 media platforms and channels that PQ Media monitors for this report. It will be slightly below the 44% growth rate projected for overall media buying and the 51% increase for overall advertising media, but it will exceed the 27% growth estimate for overall marketing media. PQ Media also estimates that it will generate $769 million in political media buying, ranking seventh.

Too many candidates and advocacy groups forget that radio is among the best media to engage with voters for numerous reasons. Elections are about reaching local voters, and as such, 86% of all political media buying is local, not national, although that share has been falling since candidates have begun to use the Super Bowl, cable television, streaming video, the internet and mobile media to reach their target audiences. In rural areas particularly, radio is the major medium to connect with voters, as there isn’t a local digital media site, the television stations cover the larger cities in the DMA, and newspapers are usually weeklies, if there is even a print newspaper still being published in these small towns. Direct mail is a distant second because the voting profiles are not as sophisticated as the large cities and out-of-home usually is limited to lawn signs.

To increase the spend and growth, radio operators need to remind political strategists and media buying firms of the following five benefits that radio offers over other media:

  1. Radio can produce commercials quickly and air them almost immediately. If a candidate or advocacy group wants to change the tone of the messaging mid-campaign, radio offers the most efficient method to start the revised campaign quickly;
  • Radio is affordable, with some of the lowest CPM rates for local media. As such, it reaches a larger audience than can be delivered for the same price point by competing media platforms;
  • Radio reaches consumers at the point of decision. Almost two-thirds of radio listening occurs while driving. Often, a person is in the car running an errand, such as going to a grocery store with a list of items to purchase (e.g., the point of decision). As such, the consumer, in this case the voter, is in a mindset to listen to ads that persuade and/or strengthen brand identity (i.e., the candidate);
  • During morning and evening drive, the consumer is also in a mindset to listen to messages, as they often turn on the radio in the morning to listen to the weather, traffic conditions, local news & sports results and during the evening commute will listen for entertainment venue attractions. Thus, they are more likely to engage with a political ad on radio than they would with television, which Marshall McCluan describes as a cool medium because it doesn’t require much attention and where media multitasking is often occurring (using two or more media simultaneously like TV and mobile);
  • Radio reaches ALL audience demographics and psychographics. Need to reach people of color? Radio listenership among minorities over-indexes the general population, particularly Hispanic and urban formats. Need to reach Democrats? Research from sources like Katz Media, shows they like adult contemporary, urban and news/talk/sports. Need to reach Republicans? The same research shows that they like country, as well as adult contemporary and news/talk/sports. Need to reach the independent swing voter? Put the ads on rock, contemporary hit and adult contemporary.

Until some, if not all, of the 20 Great Unknowns are answered, PQ Media will call its current Political Media Buying 2024 a preliminary estimate. Events that occur over the next three months will be crucial in evaluating whether more or less money will be spent on political advertising & marketing.

This post was originally published on Radio Matters.