As COVID-19 has swept across the nation, and the world, everyone has felt the effects. Businesses are closed or working remotely, and many now practice social distancing and have greatly reduced interactions with one another. The political world has not been unaffected. Campaigns, even those in heated reelection fights such as Sen. McSally’s, have halted campaign activities. This in some cases has not only included face to face canvassing, but also the airing of paid ads. Over the last month we have seen approximately a 50% weekly decrease in campaign ad spending. Down from $164M the week of February 25th all the way to $8M so far for the week of March 24th. Some of this is due to the natural ebbs and flows of the campaign cycle following Super Tuesday, as well as the effects of states such as Georgia and Alabama postponing elections. But the virus is certainly a contributing factor as well.
Several groups have taken to both the airwaves and digital platforms to message on Coronavirus. The first TV ad mentioning Coronavirus came from Michael Bloomberg almost a month ago, on February 27th. “He Is Prepared” aired nearly 25,000 times nationwide, until Bloomberg suspending his campaign, and may have been some U.S citizen’s first exposure to the threat of the pandemic. Since then, two Democratic groups have gone on the offensive, targeting Senator Daines and Governor Kemp for their responses to the pandemic. More recently, Senators Collins and McConnell have gone up with their own ads regarding the disease.
Digitally we have seen a similar pattern, with outside Democratic groups spending heavily to criticize GOP response to the pandemic and GOP candidates advertising to defend their records. Overall, Democratic issue groups have garnered about 88x more impressions on Facebook than their GOP counterparts, while GOP candidates have run about 2.5x as many impressions as Democratic candidates. One trend to watch for will be if GOP groups go on the offensive about the Senate’s stimulus bill.
As the virus continues to affect our daily lives, we expect to see more and more messaging based around the virus and its response. Democratic issue groups have led the way, with Priorities USA airing ads on TV this week in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan attacking President Trump’s handling of the outbreak. With the Democratic primary seemingly finished, Coronavirus looks to be the subject of the first major volleys of the general election. The virus will be at the forefront of voters’ minds and this crisis offers candidates up and down the ticket the opportunity to contrast themselves with their opponents and demonstrate that they are better equipped to lead in a crisis. We will continue to monitor how messaging changes around this pandemic as it continues.