Small Screen Stats: Who Is and Isn’t Investing in the Iowa Media Market

Posted: December 11, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog

Christie answers audience questions Photo by Skylar Borchardt

Who’s showing up on your TV these days? Hillary Clinton? Rand Paul? Ben Carson? That depends on where you live. In today’s media market, campaigns are getting pretty savvy at determining who sees which message when. They stack the cards in their favor depending on the states, or even regions within states, where they have a high likelihood of reaching potential voters.

While there have been a few national campaign ads on major networks, most of the media buys at this point in the campaign cycle are local. As seen in the graphs below, the majority of candidates are focused on first in the nation primary and caucus states; primarily Iowa and New Hampshire with a few ads thrown up here and there in South Carolina and Nevada.

Rep Ads


On the Republican side, both Carson and Cruz have run about as many ads in Iowa as the rest of the candidates combined. They’ve also run as many total ads as the rest of the candidates combined. Bush and Christie look to be leaning more on New Hampshire than Iowa and the rest of the field doesn’t seem to think TV ads are worth their time just yet.

Dem Ads


On the Democratic side, it becomes obvious who has money to spend. Clinton is throwing her weight around on the airwaves with 11 ads apiece run in Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders, while more conservative with his spending (uncharacteristically), has a similar spread to Hillary, placing an equal number of ads in both states.

There are a couple generalizations that can be made looking at this type of raw data. On one hand, we can infer that the candidates spending more money on TV ads in Iowa rather than New Hampshire think they have a better shot of doing well in the first caucus rather than the first primary. But on the other hand, these ad buys could be considered a show of strength, with the wealthier campaigns flexing their muscles in the form of TV time.

Either way, campaign advertising is a lucrative business to be in during election years. In 2012, each candidate spent over $400 million on ads, mainly in early primary and swing states. Considering the amount of time Iowans spend staring at screens plastered with presidential faces, it’s incredible that most New Yorkers, Kansans and Utahans could making to election day without seeing a single TV ad.

Something to take into account when discussing campaign ads however, is the influence of super PACs and interest groups. The graph below shows which candidates super PAC has been the most active. The most notable is Christie’s America Leads PAC, which has spent more time promoting him in New Hampshire than his campaign. Additionally, there is the influence from interest groups whose can come across both as endorsements or attacks ads depending on the organization.



At the end of the day, we can’t discuss this method of campaigning in a vacuum. For every TV ad, there is a radio spot, YouTube video, Facebook post, tweet, Instagram post, and mailbox stuffer to match. With each successive campaign cycle, the multimedia means by which to reach different demographics become more and more targeted. The ads intended for a 17-year old white working-class teenager from Ohio look very different from those intended for a 57-year old middle-class Latino accountant from northern Florida. Just like any other successful marketing campaign, each candidate has to decide who they are going to hook and then how they are going to hook them.


Ramsey is a senior public relations major with a concentration in politics. She is a proud Iowan who watches too much SNL and is the only journalism student in recorded history without a coffee habit. Follow her on Twitter.