Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has opened a surprising fundraising lead over President Trump, with $141 million more in the bank than the Trump campaign has. And that cash is funding a surge of Biden ads in swing states and beyond.
The Biden campaign has spent or booked $320 million worth of ads through Election Day, according to the latest data from research firm Advertising Analytics. The Trump campaign has spent or committed just $248 million. Six months ago, the mismatch seemed improbable, since Biden’s campaign was running on fumes after primary elections with more than 20 candidates, while Trump was the lone Republican raising money.
Sine then, Biden has benefited from better unity in the Democratic Party than in 2016, when Bernie Sanders continued sniping at Hillary Clinton even after she won the nomination. Democratic donors also seem highly motivated to beat Trump. Biden’s fundraising totals don’t include more than $100 million in donations to Democratic groups after the Sept. 18 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has somehow run through $1 billion and shaken up its leadership amid allegations of reckless spending by former campaign manager Brad Parscale.
All that money seems likely to give Biden a key advertising edge right up to Election Day on Nov. 3. “We've seen Joe Biden outspending Donald Trump almost two to one in some markets in some key states,” Ben Taber of Advertising Analytics says on the latest episode of the Yahoo Finance Electionomics podcast. “It seems like that's a trend that's going to continue.”
Biden’s campaign spent $17 million more on ads than Trump’s from June through August. In September, the Biden campaign has spent or booked $115 million worth of ads, nearly double the Trump campaign’s $60 billion in ad spending.
Each campaign has booked about $100 million worth of ads during the last five weeks of the campaign in October and early November. But much of that advertising isn’t yet paid for, and the Trump campaign has canceled planned advertising runs in recent weeks in states such as Arizona and North Carolina, where the race is tight. So some of the booked Trump ads might not materialize.
Biden also has better support from super PACs and other political-action committees advertising on his behalf. PACs supporting Biden have booked $63 million in ads in October and November, according to Advertising Analytics, compared with just $23 million for PACs supporting Trump. Such outside groups often run ads to fill gaps when the campaign itself has to pull back.
Biden’s top advertising targets for the last five weeks of the campaign are Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Biden also has a robust national advertising effort, with costly ads running during NFL games and other national broadcasts.
Trump’s top advertising targets are Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The Ohio campaign suggests Trump is nervous about defending a state that leans Republican, while the Minnesota ads suggest Trump feels he might have a shot at winning a traditionally blue state. Both candidates have disproportionately large ad campaigns in North Carolina, which could end up being a tipping-point state. Trump isn’t doing any national advertising, probably because the campaign considers it poor use of scarce dollars for a president who generates tons of media coverage as it is.
Voters in swing states often tune out the nonstop campaign ads that run everywhere during the last few weeks of a campaign. But those saturation ads are still important, since they can persuade noncommitted voters to turn out at the last minute, and even flip a vote here and there. “Presidential elections tend to come down to the margins,” Taber says, “and any marginal change you have around the edges, even if it's just a couple percentage points, that's enough to swing the election one way or the other.” That’s an obvious lesson from 2016, which Biden and Trump both hope to prove they learned.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.