Q4 Political Ad Landscape


Election season is coming and political advertisers are beginning to ramp up their budgets as they prepare to spend heavily over the next couple of months. With Trump and Biden having raised over $1.6 billion to date (along with the many high-profile local races) it means the political ad spend will likely reach $6.7 billion in 2020 according to reports by Politico.

There are many races up for grabs in 2020 including 435 House of Representative seats, 35 Senate seats, 11 Gubernatorial seats, and 1 President. Additionally, there are many toss up states that will be fought over. Below is a map of the electoral votes and swing states:

With that in mind, here is a look at the media marketplace for various channels as we move into the Fall 2020 election season:

Local TV and Radio:

Areas most impacted:

  • Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota, and Arizona expect to see the heaviest political activity
  • President Trump recently placed almost $100MM on TV ads in FL, OH, NC, PA, WI, and AZ between Labor Day and Election Day
  • Biden has focused a majority of his spend on digital, but just placed TV buys in TX, AZ, FL, and NC
  • Even states like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Georgia are all expected to see heavy political TV and Radio ad spending

Timing for Heavy Spends: 

Local spending in swing states will be consistent with heavier spending around the conventions as well as the 8-week political window leading up to the election, starting on September 4th and ending on November 3rd.


Local TV and Radio will see the bulk of political spending leading to tighter inventory and higher rates and pre-emptions.

National TV:

Although there will be political spending across national television on cable, broadcast, and streaming, the primary area that will be impacted with major spend increases is across the cable news networks. Ratings for these networks have been increasing recently from both the impact of COVID-19 as well as how the pandemic and other issues tie into the overall political conversation. News networks will likely have tighter inventory in September and October and may have sellouts in the few weeks leading into the election.


We anticipate two key things will happen within the digital landscape. The first is political advertising spend is expected to increase sharply, in some cases doubling compared to spends in 2018 as viewership increases and better targeting becomes available. This would put digital ad spend at around 20-30% of all media spends. The second is that with most political dollars going to traditional media, non-political advertisers will seek alternative digital channels as TV and Radio inventory becomes limited.

This will not be happening equally across all channels based on how each channel is treating political advertising.  Here is a rundown of each:

  • Google: Requires all political advertisers to apply for verification before ads can serve across any of their platforms. Targeting tactics are limited and creative must follow specific guidelines and disclosures. Google has also created greater transparency by making information around all political advertising on their platform available to the public. Google is expected to get a large portion of digital dollars which will likely drive up CPMs across their marketplace on display and video ads.
  • Facebook: Has been getting a tremendous amount of pressure from the ad community for their lack of screening around certain political advertising. This has included some boycotts in the month of July from various advertisers. Facebook has responded by place some restrictions on political advertising from political leaning news organizations, and they are considering additional restrictions as well. Facebook is also expected to get a large portion of digital dollars which will likely drive up CPMs across their marketplace on newsfeed and video ads.
  • TikTok: Does not accept political advertising.
  • Twitter: Twitter has banned political advertising and has taken some steps to correct misinformation from political figures regarding their postings on Twitter. One tactic has been to flag potentially misleading information. The second is to take down accounts that are posting information that violates Twitter’s policies (i.e. inciting violence).
  • Other DSPs: This varies but most are requiring verification and advertisers must comply with all applicable local, state, and national laws, rules, and regulations. Targeting tactics are limited and creative must follow specific guidelines and disclosures. Some, like Adobe, are banning political advertising altogether.