Written by Sydney Beckham

The political landscape for the 2024 Presidential race looks incredibly different than it did in 2020, despite the great possibility it will feature a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The 2020 Presidential election saw over $3B, making it the most expensive American election in history. While it may be tough for the 2024 race to ultimately beat it out, Presidential spending is already outpacing that of last cycle. Democrat and Republican advertisers are using different messaging and spending strategies than they did in 2019. We have already seen $49.5M in Presidential spending this year.

The odd year preceding a presidential election is crucial for the party not in power. By May 2019, there were seven Democrat candidates who had already spent over $1M on advertisements. At the time, more than twelve Democrat candidates had announced their candidacy.  So far this year, there are nine Republican candidates who have announced with an unclear frontrunner. Several other announcements are pending. Former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are currently the top contenders for the RNC nomination, which is shaping up to be a grueling battle in the months leading up to the primaries. The upcoming election will be one of, if not the most, expensive election in American history. 

Between January and May 2019, Democrat candidates and PACs spent a total $17.4M in ads. The top spenders during that time were Elizabeth Warren ($2M), Kamala Harris ($1.7M), Bernie Sanders ($1.4M), and Joe Biden ($1.3M). Spending from issue groups was relatively minimal. The highest spender was Act Now on Climate with $700K on ads supporting Jay Inslee. On the Republican side, Donald Trump spent $2.1M on ads and his affiliated PAC, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, spent $4.3M. Most of Trump’s ads were digital advertisements on Facebook and Google. 

In 2023, there has been significantly more spending from the party seeking the White House. Republican groups and candidates have spent a total $33.2M, totaling $15.8M more than Democrat advertisers spent in 2019 (January-May). The two top spenders are the Trump-backed MAGA Inc. PAC with $15.7M and Never Back Down, a PAC supporting Ron DeSantis (before his official announcement), with $10.8M. The two PACs make up nearly 80% of 2023 spending on the GOP side. Incumbent President Joe Biden has seen about $6.2M in support from his campaign, a coordinated buy with the DNC, the Biden Victory Fund, and several other PACs. 

In the first five months of 2019 and 2023, the party with contested primaries saw significantly more spending than the party holding the presidency:

a line chart showing presidential primary spending

Between January and May 2019, Democrats and Republicans both prioritized digital advertising over traditional media (broadcast, cable, radio, and satellite). Democrats spent $16.5M on digital advertisements (primarily on Facebook and Google) and about $800K on broadcast ads during that time frame. Nearly 94% of Democrat total ad spend was on digital. Similarly, digital advertising made up 97% of Republican Presidential spending. 

Through May 2023, both parties seem to be utilizing different advertising strategies than last cycle. Republicans and Democrats are more heavily investing in traditional media this year, particularly with ads on cable. While there is significantly more total spending thus far this cycle, digital ads make up only 10% of total Republican Presidential spend, and 42% for Democrats.

Cable advertisements have been the most popular media type for 2023 Presidential spending, with nearly 58% of Republican ads and 39% of Democrat ads placed on cable. Of the nearly $22M spent on cable, over 83% was purchased at the network level, meaning the ads aired nationally.   

Below is a breakdown of media types used by both parties in 2019 and 2023:

So far, ad messaging in this cycle is very different compared to 2019, especially on the Republican side. Trump’s recent advertisements on Facebook have primarily focused on his indictment in New York, claiming the “Radical Left Democrats have been engaged in a witch hunt to destroy our movement”. This ad targeted the entire US and was shown the most in Texas, Florida, and California. On cable and broadcast, ads from MAGA Inc. have solely focused on attacking DeSantis. There has been minimal messaging about policy or national issues going into 2024 from the former President. In May 2019, Trump’s digital ads focused largely on the border and building a wall. 

To date, Trump has seen $18.6M in support, DeSantis $11.2M, and Tim Scott $8.5M. 

As the 2024 primaries quickly approach, the standing question is who will face Joe Biden next November. Although Trump and Biden rarely agree, they both recognize the threat of Ron DeSantis’ candidacy. DeSantis has risen to stardom within the Republican Party and poses a serious threat to Trump’s RNC nomination. DeSantis officially announced his candidacy on May 24th.Spending from MAGA Inc. and Never Back Down have dominated spending in this race so far, outspending any Democrat candidate or PAC in January through May 2019 by millions. We will surely see millions more poured into the presidential race by these two PACs

Interested in learning more about 2024 Presidential spending? Check out our blog on digital spending on the race so far.

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