2018 Midterm Elections Analysis: Local TV Ad Spend in 10 Key Senate Races


By: Mark Gorman, CEO, Matrix Solutions

If you’ve caught a glimpse of the news these past several weeks, you likely know a record-breaking number of political ads were purchased during this general election season than in any previous midterm. When it comes to elections, local TV is a key player in how politicians reach constituents to drum up support for their campaigns and to overall encourage voters to visit the polls on election day. We thought it would be interesting to assess the value each major party and their respective candidates placed in local broadcast for these purposes, so to do this we analyzed more than $256 million worth of political ad sales from senatorial candidates in the 10 toss-up states for the duration of each state’s 2018 general election campaign.

We started by looking at the most comprehensive full month in which the race began and tracked scheduled advertising through November 2018. This is not the definite total local broadcast spend from all candidates, but we service 173 of the 210 Nielsen media markets, capturing a representative snapshot of the total local TV ad spend figures across the country.


Matrix Solutions’ 2018 Midterms Political Ad Spend Map

It was very clear that the Democratic senatorial candidates had been collectively outspending their Republican counterparts in local broadcast on average by over $9.9 million or roughly 4 percent (D: $133+ million; R: $123+ million). Likewise, this trend was evident among individual Democratic senatorial candidates like Beto O’Rourke from Texas, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and Claire McCaskill from Missouri. This was understandable considering more than three years have gone by since the party wielded control over the upper chamber. Democrats were eager to regain a majority, with even more determination in these past two years following the 2016 election.

For most of the races, spend margins between the candidates were narrow below 6 percent, but few instances existed in which the Democratic contender spent significantly more including Texas’s Beto O’Rourke’s $1.2 million lead (12 percent) over Ted Cruz’s spend and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly’s $6.1 million lead (20 percent) over Mike Braun’s spend. There were two races with an exception to this trend, in which Republicans actually purchased more local TV ads including Florida’s Rick Scott, known to have personally funded a significant amount of his campaign, and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn.

How Did the Bigger Spenders Fare?

There are countless factors in addition to advertising that affect the outcome of any election, but for the purposes of what was evaluated in our report, local broadcast spend didn’t directly correlate with the ultimate winner in each of the races of interest. Of the 10 toss-up states, Democrats outspent their Republican contenders in eight states, but have since won four of these elections while losing the other six. Conversely, Republican candidates won in six races despite spending more on local TV ads in only two of the states.

Local Broadcast: A Pivotal Avenue for Political Advertising

Voter turnout for the 2018 midterms broke records – 48 percent of eligible voters casted ballots compared with 39 percent back in 2014. It’s no question that recent political events prompted more Americans to exercise their right to vote this midterm season, and these circumstances made it even more contested between candidates counting on the results to solidify their party’s influence in Congress. Our data illuminates the value each candidate entrusted in local TV as a medium into reaching the American public, influencing the undecided, bringing important issues to the forefront and encouraging people to visit the polls who may not have done so on election day.

Politicians, especially during times of elections, should regard local broadcast inventory as a direct avenue into better targeting constituents in their own regions who have the power to support their campaigns and exercise their influence on policy at both local and national scales. Many variables play a part in impacting the public’s decision on whom it entrusts with governmental and leadership responsibilities, but a strong local broadcast footprint is an important campaign element in bolstering the success of any candidate running for office.

A full graphical representation of the 2018 Midterms Political Ad Spend Map findings can be found here.



Matrix Solutions looked at more than $256 million worth of relevant political ad sales to determine individual and total local broadcast spend of Democratic and Republican senatorial candidates in the toss up states of Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia – normalizing spend figures from the activity of 166 active accounts. Political ad spend in local TV was retrieved for the duration of each state’s 2018 general election campaign, starting from the most comprehensive full month in which the race began and tracking scheduled advertising through November 2018. Each candidate’s spend is inclusive of purchases made by Thursday, October 25th in their favor by PACs, political committees and organizations, and themselves, among others.


About the Author

Mark Gorman brings more than 20 years of professional experience and leadership to his role as CEO at Matrix Solutions.

Prior, Mark worked closely with the Matrix executive team in his role as Managing Director for Main Line Equity Partners (MLEP). In 2013, MLEP provided growth capital investment to Matrix Solutions and Mark was appointed CEO in 2015. With Mark at the helm, Matrix has increased revenue over 45 percent and significantly expanded its customer base into new markets. 

Mark possesses diverse experience in private equity and alternative asset industries, bringing with him significant transactional, analytical and marketing practice expertise. He holds a J.D. and M.B.A. with an emphasis in accounting from the University of Pittsburgh, and a B.A. in both Political Science and German from the University of Pennsylvania.


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