GOP Primary Spending And Messaging Analysis: Fourth GOP Debate

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Written by: Ethan Mort

Tonight, four Republican candidates will return to the stage for the fourth Presidential Primary debate. The debate will be hosted in Tuscaloosa and will be broadcast by NewsNation and the CW at 8 PM ET. The Republican National Committee has determined four candidates met the polling, donor, and pledge requirements necessary to qualify for this debate: Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and Chris Christie. Despite meeting the donor and polling requirements, former President Donald Trump announced that he would not attend any debates. It is unclear whether he signed the pledge to back the eventual winner of the GOP primary. Since the last debate, Tim Scott and Doug Burgum suspended their presidential campaigns. They were the fourth and fifth candidates by total ad support. Scott had seen $24.3M in total ad support airings before dropping out, canceling $25M of planned future ad reservations. Overall, Republican advertisers have placed $207M in total spending reservations. So far, $193M worth of ads have aired. A near majority (48%) of future reservations support Haley’s candidacy.

The early primary states of Iowa ($90M) and New Hampshire ($49M) have seen most of this year’s spending, while $57M has been reserved for national buys. Iowa makes up 43% of all GOP Presidential Primary spending. DeSantis has maintained his top spot in candidate ad support since Scott dropped out and canceled his remaining reservations. Since the debate last month, the candidate with the highest increase in spending and reservation support was Haley with $9M added.

China has been the most mentioned issue across ads airing since the last debate. Pro-Trump advertisers make up 40% of all China mentions in that time. All four debate qualified candidates and Trump have ads supporting their candidacy since the last debate that mention China. Pro-Trump advertisers have released 62% of all ads that have mentioned immigration since the last debate.

Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor DeSantis has maintained his second-place status across most polls, and now he commands the most ad support behind him, at $47.2M. Pro-DeSantis group, Never Back Down, makes up 90% of the $47.2M. Pro-DeSantis advertisers have targeted four early primary states, with $21.3M in Iowa, $9.2M in New Hampshire, $3.7M in South Carolina, $630K in Nevada, and $12M on national broadcast and cable. DeSantis has seen more ad support on digital advertising than any other candidate, with $3M spent across Facebook and Google. This is $1.2M more than Trump, who is second. Pro-DeSantis ads cover a range of issues from immigration, the economy, gender, and China, however, 33% of all pro-DeSantis ads are ads about his, or the other candidates’ character. This is evident with pro-DeSantis advertisers recently launching several ads that attack Haley and Trump. This Never Back Down ad goes on the attack against Trump, despite never mentioning or showing the former President. In another instance, the latest DeSantis ad features testimonials from former Trump voters who suggest, “we’ve got to move on”. Haley has also come under attack from Never Back Down and Fight Right PAC as they have released multiple attacks against her, amid her rise in the polls. This Never Back Down ad alleges Haley “welcomed Chinese companies to South Carolina”, with another ad accusing Haley of being “politically correct” for caring about Palestinian citizens. Fight Right PAC was created last month by DeSantis allies and ran an ad linking Haley to Hillary Clinton. Outside of ads attacking the other candidates, pro-DeSantis advertisers have focused on the border and crime, with one notable ad mocking Kamala Harris by featuring clips of her pledging the border is secure while the ad alleges it is not.

Donald Trump

Former President Trump continues to lead GOP primary polls and has seen $38.6M total ad support, the second most of any GOP candidate. Most pro-Trump spending comes from MAGA Inc., which has spent $32.1M. Since the last debate, MAGA Inc. has made huge investments in Iowa. Pro-Trump advertisers have continued to expand their focus on Iowa and New Hampshire. As of September, 80% of pro-Trump spending was on national ads. That figure now sits at 54%, with Iowa making up 35% of all pro-Trump spending and New Hampshire 9%. Pro-Trump ads have heavily focused on the border with 32% of all ads being focused on immigration. One immigration ad promises Trump will declare war on the cartels, and another ad suggests Trump will implement the death penalty for human trafficking. Additionally, pro-Trump advertisers have continued their attack against DeSantis and Biden. A recent MAGA Inc. ad attacks DeSantis by suggesting his support for Puerto Rican statehood is a “liberal power play”. A MAGA Inc. ad from August accuses Biden of corruption and weaponizing his justice department against Trump. The most recent MAGA Inc. ad states “Bumbling Biden has made a mess.”

Nikki Haley

Former South Carolina Governor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Haley is rising in both the polls and ad spending support. She has begun to threaten DeSantis’ second-place position in the race and has seen her total ad support grow rapidly. Since the last debate, Haley placed $4.7M in traditional ad buys, her first of the race. Pro-Haley advertisers have shifted their focus to Iowa, with her ad support in Iowa ($18.4M) now exceeding her ad support in New Hampshire ($16M). Haley still has the most ad support in New Hampshire, nearly doubling the ad support of DeSantis, the next highest candidate in New Hampshire. Of the remaining candidates in the race, pro-Haley advertisers make up 51% of all ad spending in New Hampshire, and 57% of all future ad reservations in the state. Connecting their ad messaging with Haley’s experience as ambassador to the United Nations, 56% of pro-Haley ads mention China. With Never Back Down taking shots at Haley, SFA Fund is also hitting DeSantis. One SFA ad claims “Ron DeSantis can’t stop lying about Nikki Haley…he’s lying because he’s losing” and accuses him of supporting China. Another SFA ad begins with “poor Ron DeSantis, he’s losing, he’s lying” and features clips of Sean Hannity clarifying that Haley does not support accepting Palestinian refugees. When SFA is not wading into a fight with DeSantis, their ads feature Haley talking about the border and the ongoing crisis in Israel, and term limits in Congress. Haley’s only TV ad from her campaign so far discusses the threats the country faces abroad and at home.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has seen $7.8M in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, American Exceptionalism. The PAC however, has not been on air since October 18th. A plurality (38%) of pro-Ramaswamy spending is on digital ads, with $3M spent. Pro-Ramaswamy advertisers have also spent $3.8M on ads in Iowa, $2M in New Hampshire, and $1.6M across national broadcast and cable. Ramaswamy only has $123K in ad reservations at the moment. The most recent Ramaswamy ad features his childhood piano teacher describing Ramaswamy in the same category as “Trump and Reagan.” Recently, Ramaswamy has gone on the attack against DeSantis and Haley, with one ad accusing them of wanting to lead the nation into World War III and putting their faces next to Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Previously, Ramaswamy released an ad in support of Trump in the face of his indictments. Another ad touts Ramaswamy’s position of shutting down the FBI.

Chris Christie

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has seen $4.2M in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, Tell It Like It Is. Christie is the only debate-qualified candidate to not have any traditional ad support in Iowa. Instead, Christie’s campaign and Tell It Like It Is PAC have placed ad buys nationally ($1.6M) and in New Hampshire ($2.5M). Pro-Christie advertisers have made a push on national ads, spending $1.2M more nationally since the last debate. Christie is the only debate-qualified candidate with no future ad reservations in support of his candidacy. A recent Tell It Like It Is ad discusses how Christie would tackle several issues such as inflation, immigration, and China. Tell It Like It Is has attacked Trump in past ads, and has continued the trend in more recent ads. One ad questions whether Trump will be able to keep America safe in lieu of his personal issues, and another ad attacks both Trump and Biden or adding to the national debt. With Pence now out of the race, pro-Christie ads are the only ads supporting a Republican Presidential candidate that openly names and attacks Trump.

Those Not Qualified for the Debate

The debate stage has halved since August’s first debate where eight candidates took the stage. Three candidates who have participated in a past debate have dropped out (Burgum, Scott, and Mike Pence), and Asa Hutchinson has failed to qualify for any subsequent debate. Outside the four debate-qualified candidates who have seen more than $100K in ad support, Ryan Binkley ($2.3M) and Asa Hutchinson ($118K in ad support) remain in the race. The next debate has currently not been scheduled.

Viewership

Viewership for the GOP Presidential Debates has been trending down steadily since the first debate in August. AdImpact gets audience data by collaborating with Inscape to track a panel of over 10 million smart TV devices. Based on this sample, AdImpact can estimate the viewership for live programming.

Interested in learning on how President Biden has spent the most out of any Presidential incumbent in an off year? Read our blog here:

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