The presidential campaigns and their supporters have aired more than 1 million television ads in the 2012 election, far surpassing any previous contest, according to a study released Friday.
The analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project also shows that President Obama has spent far more on ads--$265 million--through Oct. 29 than Republican nominee Mitt Romney. But super PACs and other outside groups have allowed Romney to surpass Obama in spending overall.
In 2008, about 730,000 advertisements had been aired in the presidential race from June 1 through the last week of October, according to the study, which is based on tracking estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG. During the same time period this year, that number is 1,015,615--a 39 percent increase.
"This is, by far, the most advertising we've seen in a presidential election," said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan group, which focuses on analyzing presidential ad spending. "Everyone expected ads to be more abundant this election than in 2008, especially with super PAC involvement and both candidates opting out of public funding, but passing the one million mark is a real milestone."
Perhaps most striking, the Obama campaign has sponsored half of all the commercials aired, buying cheaper ad time than its rivals and taking advantage of discounts available to candidate committees under federal law. Romney, by contrast, had less money in his campaign account for discounted ads and has relied primarily on the Republican Party and outside groups, which generally pay higher prices for airtime.
The end result is that the Republicans have paid far more but still ran fewer commercials than Obama, even in recent weeks when Romney and allies such as American Crossroads and Restore Our Future have ratcheted up their ad purchases. From Oct. 22 to Oct. 29, Obama and his main ally, the Priorities USA Action super PAC, aired more commercials in 16 of the top 25 markets despite being outspent by about 30 percent, the new data show.
Overall, Romney and all GOP groups combined have aired about 50,000 fewer presidential ads than Obama since June.
Nine of every 10 pro-Obama ads has been sponsored by the president's reelection campaign. Romney, by contrast, has not had control over most of the advertising run in his favor: More than half of pro-Romney ads--about 270,000 spots--were aired by Crossroads and other well-funded conservative groups, the Wesleyan group found.
"The level of support for Governor Romney from outside groups is simply incredible," said Michael Franz, Wesleyan's other co-director. "Groups supporting Romney out-advertised the candidate and party committees. That is unprecedented in a presidential election."
See a full breakdown of which groups are spending money and where on our Mad Money ad tracker.