By early September 2012, Mitt Romney and PACs supporting his candidacy had purchased slightly more ads in the Des Moines market than the campaign of President Obama and groups backing his reelection. Data from Kantar/CMAG analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project shows that between April and September of that year, about 52 percent of the ads purchased in the 20 most popular media markets were bought by Team Obama; Team Mitt had purchased about 47 percent of the ads.
Over the past month — the first month that Donald Trump has run any ads at all — Hillary Clinton and PACs supporting her have run 70 percent of the ads that ran in the most popular markets. Trump, and groups supporting him, have run 30 percent. Over the past month, Team Clinton has run 80 percent of the presidential ads in the Des Moines market, a 4-to-1 advantage.
Before that, of course, Clinton’s advantage was nearly infinite. Trump’s campaign hadn't run any ads and the groups backing him weren’t matching what groups backing Clinton were spending. Regardless, the difference between this year and four years ago is stark. Team Trump has ceded the playing field.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would miss its earnings targets for the third quarter of 2016. Sinclair operates 173 television stations that are heavily reliant on political advertising in an election year. This year, they’re not seeing the spending they anticipated.
“While we previously anticipated a decline in Presidential ad spending in the third quarter based on the late fundraising by the Trump campaign,” Chris Ripley, the company’s CFO, said in a statement, “we have yet to see significant spending, even at the levels we initially anticipated.” Ripley also noted that the withdrawal of ad spending in the Ohio Senate race was affecting what the company intended to receive. If anyone’s hoping for a close presidential race, it’s Sinclair and Ripley: “While we are hopeful that the close polling between Trump and Clinton results in the campaigns and PACs increasing their ad spend, there can be no assurances this will materialize given the unusual nature of this year’s election.”
The places that Trump is out-advertising Clinton are mostly in places where Clinton and supporting PACs pulled spending, like Virginia and Colorado.
And what’s happened over the past month in polling? Trump has gained ground in the polls.
That's the sort of thing that will keep the CFO of Sinclair Broadcast Group up at night.