President Trump has dominated the TV ad wars but outside groups have flooded the zone to lift presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.
The Biden strategy of laying low in the first half of 2020 meant outside groups were responsible for nearly 86% of all pro-Biden television spots between May 11 and June 28, according to an analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project and Center for Responsive Politics.
Of the nearly 85,000 television ads about the 2020 presidential race that ran during that time, Mr. Trump’s campaign showed more than 50,000 ads, Mr. Biden ran 3,100 ads, and outside groups supporting Mr. Biden accounted for almost 20,000 ads.
The ad-maker responsible for a majority of the pro-Biden messaging during this period was Priorities USA, a liberal grassroots advocacy group, which ran more than 13,000 ads promoting Mr. Biden’s message, according to the Wesleyan Media Project analysis. All outside groups supporting Mr. Trump’s reelection ran fewer than 12,000 ads total, during the same timeframe.
Michael Beckel, research director at campaign finance watchdog Issue One, said television ads are among the most expensive costs of political campaigns, so candidates often want outside groups that have an easier time raising large sums of cash to enter the fray. Mr. Beckel said Democrats have become less hesitant about endorsing super PACs or relying on other big-money sources.
“It seems many Democrats want to use every weapon in their arsenal, including big-money super PACs, to try to defeat President Trump in 2020,” Mr. Beckel said in an email. “Outside groups are legally prohibited from coordinating with candidates, but outside groups can still be powerful forces shaping how a candidate is thought about in an election, or what issues are discussed. Outside groups like super PACs and dark money groups are often able to go negative and say things that a candidate themselves would never say in an ad.”
Incumbent presidents have triumphed over challengers that deprioritized key advertising real estate on television, but new digital advertising efforts may upend that conventional wisdom.
In 2012, for example, then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was absent from cable TV ads for two of the presidential campaign’s final seven days while incumbent President Barack Obama’s successful cable TV ad push included nonpolitical programmers such as the Food Network and ESPN, according to Reuters.
Captive audiences because of coronavirus-caused social distancing and social media’s growth in the ensuing eight years have the potential to make digital advertising more important than ever before.
According to the Wesleyan Media Project analysis, Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign has also massively outspent Mr. Biden on digital advertising on Facebook and Google since the start of 2019.
Mr. Biden, however, has narrowed the deficit in recent months. Since May 9, Mr. Biden’s campaign has spent more than $17 million on Facebook and Google ads, while Mr. Trump’s campaign has paid more than $23 million.
Mr. Biden’s newest ad campaign successfully captured earned media on Tuesday, when Mr. Biden debuted his first general election ad in Texas. The coronavirus-themed ad aims to help turn the deep-red state to blue and is a likely harbinger of ads to come.