Political Ad Spending to Hit $11.7 Billion in 2016; Trump's Free Coverage Unprecedented

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Donald Trump

Revised predictions jump, though not in the presidential race, as a study on "earned" media reveals the GOP frontrunner outperforming all other candidates combined — by twofold.

The 2016 election was already expected to bring record-breaking political ad spending, but the total is now rising. Following a robust first quarter — $280 million spent far in advance of any ballots — revised predictions have more than $11.7 billion being spent on political ads across all races before the Nov. 8 election.

Adjusted spending predictions, courtesy of advertising data watchdogs Borrell Associates, have the previous estimate rising 3.1 percent ($357 million) from $11.38 billion. Interestingly, that increase is not coming from the presidential campaigns. In fact, anticipated ad spend for the U.S. presidential race actually fell by 1.7 percent to $3.372 billion. One reason for that might be all of the free coverage the current GOP frontrunner has received.

In its latest study, Borrell also points to research from MediaQuant. The firm took into account all of the hours of candidate-related media in January and February, both paid and "earned," to find that Donald Trump's media ubiquity is giving him twice as much free coverage as the other remaining presidential candidates combined.

For every dollar the Trump campaign has spent, it has received $189.80 in free media coverage. That's worlds ahead of his closest competition, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has gotten $26.60 in free coverage for every dollar spent. (John Kasich trails with a mere $2.70 for every dollar.) Borrell suggests Trump's unprecedented advantage in free coverage, courtesy of his ability to stay part of the daily news cycle, will likely serve as a template for future races.

"If Trump's skill can be quantified and effectively replicated by others," reads the March report, "it will change political advertising permanently. We suspect that it will, in some form, in election years to come."

In addition to his penchant for incendiary comments keeping him in the cable news dialogue, Trump's availability for press has also contributed significantly to his free media. The candidate is an almost daily fixture, with most outlets even allowing him to phone into shows when he can't appear in person.

Down as the presidential race ad spend may go, it still leads all other races by a wide margin. Of the $11.7 billion anticipated ad spend, state assemblies, local offices and local ballot issues are all a close second to the presidential race — each expected to contribute just over $1.7 billion a piece.

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