Sep 10 2020
Basis Technologies

Election Advertising 2020: Landscape Overview


Centro’s Candidates and Causes team has been at the forefront of political advertising in digital media since 2006. In our Election Advertising 2020 series, they share insights for advertisers ahead of the U.S. 2020 General Election.

From the predicted uptick in early and absentee voting, to ever-changing publisher policies and restrictions, to shifting media consumption habits, there’s a lot for advertisers to keep track of this election season.

Understanding timing and key battleground geographies will help provide guidance to both political and non-political advertisers on how to plan for the inevitable rise in ad spend ahead. Read on for part one of Election Advertising 2020, and keep an eye out for parts two and three later this month!

Landscape Overview

  • The advertising marketplace can expect to see demand increase over the next two months as we head into the final weeks prior to the 2020 General Election.
  • As of May 2020, political advertising spend totaled more than $2.19 billion, a $1 billion increase compared to the amount spent from January–May in 2016 and 2018.
  • Initial advertising spend projections were raised by 12% in May, up to $6.7 billion, as a result of higher spending during the primaries as well as COVID-19 (i.e. the lack of in-person campaigning pushing dollars to paid media). Digital is predicted to be at its highest share yet at 27%.
  • With spend at an all-time high in the digital space, advertisers should look to understand peak time frames and channels for the election in order to anticipate, or avoid, increased rates and competition.
  • Flexibility in targeting and/or timing should help to minimize the effects of competition with political messaging, which could be felt in video and connected TV.

Competition in the Battleground States

  • While localized campaigns scheduled to run in geographies with significant races or in battleground (or swing) states should proceed with the most caution, national advertisers running with broad targeting will likely not feel the same impact. However, they may want to consider avoiding key election timing if it is not a priority.
  • Expect top spending in swing states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Georgia, and Texas.
  • While 2020 is a Presidential year, don’t overlook local and state races. Localized campaigns in key geographies should expect to see increased demand and higher rates, particularly in biddable media. Races in GA-06 and GA-07, for example, are projected to see yearly spend upwards of $20M.
  • Competitive Senate races have driven significant spending in North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, Arizona, Maine, Montana, Kentucky, and Colorado.

Early & Absentee Voting

With the move to allow for early voting access across many states, political advertisers will no longer wait for the final 2-4 weeks to execute high-frequency Get Out The Vote (GOTV) messaging.

At least 3 in 4 US voters will have access to mail-in voting this fall, meaning political ad spending is no longer only working towards an Election Day, but rather an Election Month. As a result of this:

  • Centro predicts political spending to increase sooner than past election cycles, which in turn will cause increased demand for a longer stretch of time–ramping up in the final 6-8 weeks versus the final 3-4 weeks.
  • 21% of political ad dollars run through Basis during 2018 were delivered in the final 10 days before Election Day. This year we expect that spending will be spread more through late September and October.
  • Expect to see political spending ramp in accordance to ballots being sent and early voting starting per state.
  • At least 15 states plan to begin mailing ballots at least 45 days before the election (Sept 19th). In 22 states, early voting begins 28 days or more ahead of Election Day. For a full view into the latest vote-by-mail policies and dates, please visit

Final Recommendations

While national advertisers may feel minor effects from the ramp of political ad spend, local campaigns running in battleground states or key congressional districts should expect some degree of impact in these final 60 days.

With many publishers restricting political messaging (i.e. Google, Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and TikTok), advertisers will lean heavily into programmatic, Facebook, and premium site-direct. To help minimize the pressure and remain proactive:

  • Be aware of how your campaign may overlap with key geographies and early voting periods.
  • For localized campaigns, pad your programmatic bids (specifically video and CTV) by 15-20% in October.
  • Where possible, utilize first party data (CRM, DMP, etc) to differentiate your campaigns and avoid getting lost in the array of political messaging.

Check out part two of our Election Advertising 2020 series.