Impeachment has dominated the political discourse of late and paid political advertising has been no exception. Republican groups have bombarded the airwaves with ads targeting vulnerable Democrats, who have been left largely undefended. On TV, Democratic groups have been outspent $16.4M to $5.7M, and many of these ads have targeted their most vulnerable members. Moderate Democrats who occupy seats won by President Trump in 2016 have been the targets of most GOP spending. Only Need to Impeach has gone of the offensive, targeting vulnerable GOP Senators.
Impeachment Ad Messaging and Spending Analysis
President Trump has been the highest spending advertiser, putting up $5.5M on television ads since September 23. His ads have followed an interesting strategy, with a national television buy totaling just under $3M. Most of the rest of his spending has been in early primary states, with the first four states receiving a combined $2M. The remaining money went to Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Wilkes Barre-Scranton in Pennsylvania. Some of his ads, such as “Promises” hit out at Joe Biden, while others such as “Change Washington” and “My President” focus on his own accomplishments. The attacks on Joe Biden ran more heavily in primary states, while ads focusing on his accomplishments were much more likely to run in Pennsylvania.
American Action Network, RNC, America First, and Presidential Coalition spent a combined $11M attacking vulnerable House democrats, with AAN making up almost half of this spending. During two separate rounds of ads, they have targeted more than 20 districts on TV. Their ads such as “No Progress” and “No Impeachment” hit vulnerable Democrats as “playing politics” rather than working to pass legislation.
House Majority Forward has been the primary group shielding house Dems. They have spent $3.6M across eleven districts in defense their members. Their ads have been hyper-focused on issues, and don’t even mention the word impeachment. “Focused on Michigan,” defending Hayley Stevens, is a prime example of this strategy. This approach is largely informed by polling numbers, which have for/against impeachment numbers evenly split. However, districts that voted for Trump are more likely to be against impeachment, even if his approval rating in these districts has declined. Therefore, House Majority Forward has had to defend House Democrats while downplaying their role in impeachment.
In total, more than 50 districts have seen at least $1k worth of ads. MI-08 is the district most targeted by impeachment ads, with exposure to more than $1.3M in ads from five separate groups since we started tracking impeachment related spending. No other district has exceeded $1M in advertising. VA-07, NV-03, VA-02, and NY-22 round out the top five districts targeted. Each of these districts were flipped by Democrats in 2018 and are currently listed as Toss Up or Lean Democrat for 2020. It is interesting to note that despite Rep. Van Drew of NJ-02 switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican over impeachment, no TV ads have run in his district about impeachment. His neighbor to the north in NJ-03, however, has been one of the most targeted Reps. on impeachment, seeing more than $640k in ads.
It remains to be seen whether this GOP ad blitz will pay off, but early signs show that it has made an impact. One Democrat has already flipped parties, at least tangentially due to pressure on impeachment, and according to Real Clear Politics, support for impeachment has marginally declined of late. It seems unlikely that this effort will ultimately be enough to prevent the House from voting to impeach tomorrow, but impeachment will certainly remain a potent cudgel for elections in 2020. Vulnerable Democratic House members will undoubtedly be hit with more ads over their impeachment votes in the fall of 2020, and if the Democrats hope to maintain their majority, they’re going to have to start giving these Trump-district members some cover.