$1 Billlion In Online Political Spending In 2016, Borrell Study Says

Years after a lot of other advertising segments have discovered online video, it would appear politicians are, too.

It’s still not breaking out to be the biggest part of most political campaigns, but a new report from Borrell Associates says online political spending will get to nearly $1 billion in 2016.

That’s a growth of 500% since 2012, and 20-fold since 2010. But that’s only a sliver of the $12 billion that will be spent by candidates for all local, state and federal offices in 2016.

And, this report notes, we’re not necessarily talking about traditional advertising spending online.

“Most of the activity, it seems, is by digital marketing managers working within the campaigns, managing social media and email communications directly with the electorate,” writes Kip Cassino, the Borrell EVP who authored the study.

If you look at online’s tracking ability, it would seem the perfect place to find likely voters based on the issues they care about, and by location. That’s true, but from what political folks have told me before, it’s not the kind of quick, relatively easy-to-decipher ad as buying  the space between the end of “Ellen” and the beginning of the local news is.

 “The vast majority of 2012 candidates had little if any interest in the Web," Cassino writes, “although by now most had an ‘online expert’ – probably a devoted college student – stuffed in a corner of campaign headquarters, endlessly clicking the keys of a desktop computer."

What’s ahead: Social. Now there’s something else. Politicians are idiots (that’s not statistically proven only because no one’s probably ever asked), but I think they see the power of viral YouTube videos, Facebook posting and timely Twitter tweets and emails. They’re easy to produce, cheap and they allow politicians to attack or respond on the fly. Plus, it seems to me, Facebook and YouTube are aging up, and that’s good news for politics too, because voting in this country is still an old person’s hobby.

“Facebook has been very aggressive about hiring staff that know how to talk to the politicians and use Facebook in campaign efforts. Certainly for video, you have to look at YouTube,” Cassino told

For the elections this year, the Borrell report quotes an expert who predicts as much as half of the spending online will be in the social space, an interesting barometer about how much the conversation of elections is now being done not in letters to the editor or town hall meetings but in exchanges organized about social sites.  

The report suggests major shifts in campaign spending—to cable and online and starting to drift from broadcast as a share of the total. To be precise, political advertisers are less averse to advertising on cable because it’s more firmly entrenched in prime time and offers a better deal than local stations. And they’re seeing millennials turning increasingly to online video.

The Borrell report says there are 30,000 elections being held this year across the country that will pump $8.3 to various advertising entities. The average town council race will pump in $47,000. Senate campaigns can cost up to $23 million and governors’ races could each spend $27 million. Politicians will spend $37 per eligible voter to sway opinion via advertising, an increase of 9% from a year ago.

In 2016, when we elect a new president, spending will reach $51 per eligible voter, 21% more than the last presidential election year, when a particularly savvy Obama campaign used online media well, especially for fund-raising. Look for more of the same in 2016, when the national electorate tries to do the right thing once again.

The most stunning stat is that in 2012, Borrell says $159.2 million was spent online; this year the figure will be $271.2 million and by 2016, the figure will reach $995.3 million.

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