Presidential Ad Spending Overview

 Data from   Democracy in Action gratefully acknowledges AdImpact and Lauren Williams for their help with the data in these pages.

Spending on Presidential Advertising
, May 1-Nov. 3, 2020

Summary: As the Democratic primaries ended, the Trump campaign seemed to be in a good position to wage an intense ad campaign in the Fall; it had a huge cash advantage and financially it was much better situated than in 2016.  But this was not 2016.  The pandemic undercut Trump's economic message, and Democrats, united in their antipathy to Trump, rallied behind Biden.  The Democrats enjoyed great fundraising success; starting in May 2020 Biden and the DNC brought in more than Trump and RNC, and after Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate their fundraising accelerated (+)While the Trump campaign outspent the Biden campaign on advertising through July, each month thereafter the Biden campaign outspent the Trump campaign on advertising by more than 2 to 1.  The once big-spending Trump campaign had to tighten its belt.  Throughout the fall, there was a steady stream of  reports from one key state after another on how the Trump campaign was having to pull back advertising and was being outspent.  Although Trump had said in Sept. 2020 that he would, if needed, provide financial support to his campaign 2, he did not do so.  Flush with cash, the Biden campaign outspent the Trump campaign in every key state except GA and ME, sometimes by 2 to 1 or even 3 to 1.  Ultimately, during this six-month period the Biden campaign outspent the Trump campaign on advertising by $608.0 million to $352.3 million 3.

The above graph and table show ad spending in all states by just the campaign committees by month. The Trump campaign outspent the Biden campaign for May-July, but the Biden campaign vastly outspent the Trump campaign starting in August.

The Broader Picture

In addition to the campaign committees proper, Biden Victory Fund and Trump Make America Great Again Committee, ran advertising.  These were joint fundraising committees formed by the respective campaign committee, national party committee and state party committees.  The national party committees also ran some ads in coordination with the campaigns.

Coordinated Buys, May 1-Nov. 3, 2020


Biden Victory Fund

Trump Make America Great Again Committee


Outside groups, fueled by mega-donors such as Sheldon Adelson and Mike Bloomberg and Dustin Moskovitz, poured in hundreds of millions of dollars on  advertising on both sides of the presidential race.  The biggest spending groups were America First Action and Preserve America PAC supporting Trump and Future Forward (FF PAC) supporting Biden.  Among the Biden allies, seven groups spent $10 million or more compared to just three Trump allies. 

Supporting Biden  

Supporting Trump 

Future Forward

America First Action $113,551,861
Priorities USA Action* $60,987,329

Preserve America PAC
Independence USA PAC (2, 3)

Restoration PAC
American Bridge 21st Century

NRA Victory Fund
Democratic National Committee

Club for Growth Action
The Lincoln Project

Americans for Limited Government
Unite the Country

Committee to Defend the President
Defending Democracy Together

Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund
Republican Voters Against Trump

Republican National Committee
Tech for Campaigns

America First Policies
*Priorities USA Action partnered with other groups.  The number in the table above is just for solo spending. 

In some states the Trump allies partially filled the gap, but ultimately Biden and allies outspent Trump and allies on advertising in all but four of the key states: NC, GA, IA and ME.  The state with the highest total presidential ad spending over the six months, was FL at $341.2 million. 

Presidential Ad Spending by State for the Key States, May 1-Nov. 3, 2020
Top figure is campaign committee spending; second figure (bold) includes coordinated and interest group spending.

Biden and Allies
Trump and Allies
Total (millions)


North Carolina $52,192,633

Michigan $49,982,148


Wisconsin $37,974,546

Georgia $9,962,059

Nevada $12,653,533

Minnesota $13,214,280



Iowa $6,779,267

Nebraska $3,124,685

New Hampshire

Maine $1,323,042

Colorado and Virginia were marginally competitive.  Additionally, the DC market—a special case where advertising is aimed not so much at directly reaching voters as gaining media attention—saw $10,287,607 in presidential ad spending, a bit more than 97% of which was on cable.  See also: note on spending decisions.

Overall, PA saw the largest investment by the campaigns and their allies in terms of spending per electoral vote.  Biden and allies put the most spending per electoral vote into PA, while Trump and allies led with NC.

Relative Investment in Pres. Ad Spending by State, May 1-Nov. 3, 2020

$ Million
$M per EV
$M per EV
$ Million per
Electoral Vote
Pennsylvania (20)
Wisconsin (10)
Arizona (11) $140.4 $7.51
Florida (29)
North Carolina (15)
Michigan (16)
Nebraska 2nd (1)
Nevada (6)
Iowa (6)
Maine 2nd (1)
Georgia (16)
Minnesota (10)
Ohio (18)
New Hampshire (4)
Texas (38)

BIDEN & ALLIES ($M/EV): PA ($8.85)  -  WI ($8.23)  -  FL ($7.59)  -  AZ ($7.51)  -  MI ($7.17)  -  NE-2 ($4.65)  -  NV ($4.55)  -  NC ($4.54)  -  MN ($2.29)  -  ME ($2.17)   -  IA ($1.57)  -  GA ($1.19)  -  NH ($1.11)  -  OH ($0.97)  -  TX ($0.55).

: NC ($5.77)  - AZ ($5.25)  -  WI ($4.62)  -  PA ($4.55)  -  FL ($4.17)  -  IA ($3.23)  -  ME ($2.47)  -  GA ($2.36)  -  MI ($2.32)  -  NE-2 ($1.93)  -  NV ($1.35)   -  MN ($1.19)  -  OH ($0.68)  -  TX ($0.23)  -  NH ($0.08).

1. The six-month period from May 1 to Nov. 3 effectively encompasses the general election.  Arguably one could  start earlier. 
Some analyses look at ad spending by the campaign committees for the entire cycle.  Thus AdAge reports that the Biden campaign spent $661 million and the Trump campaign $500 million on advertising.  Recall that the Trump campaign formed in Jan. 2017, and began advertising early on.  For example, Facebook data show that from May 2018-Jan. 5, 2020 the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. spent more than $26.5 million on Facebook ads (+).  The Biden campaign ran advertising during the Democratic primaries starting in Aug. 2019 (+).  The Trump campaign also ran a few TV ads in 2019-20 during the Democratic primaries.  Outside groups were also running ads.  In late March 2020 the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA started running ads in battleground states hammering Trump on coronavirus.  The Democratic primary campaign was ongoing, albeit in a muted fashion, until April 8 when Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign, making Joe Biden the presumptive nominee.  April 8 could also serve as a starting point.  May 1 as a starting point both captures a notable Trump campaign national TV ad "American Comeback" (+), and creates a neat six-month period for analysis.  One could start later.  Both sides were not fully engaged until June.  On June 18 the Biden campaign announced its first major general election TV advertising (+). 

2.  On Sept. 8, in response to a reporter's question, Trump noted "we have much more money than we had last time going into the last two months."  He declared, "[I]f we needed any more, I'd put it up personally, like I did in the [2016] primaries."  In 2016, Trump contributed $66 million to his campaign.

3. The data on these pages cover spending on advertising on electronic media (broadcast, cable, radio, digital and satellite) but do not include other types of paid media such as billboards, print advertising and persuasion mail.

Data on these pages do not show "independent" ads which account for a tiny amount of spending (less than 0.1%).  "Independent" ads includes ads from third party candidates and other small digital buys from various groups, in the hundreds of dollars.  Most notably, Jorgensen for President spent on advertising in 44 states and DC, almost all on digital; the biggest amounts were in TX ($27,834), CA ($26,899), PA ($26,507) and OH ($22,992); in nine states and DC the amount was less than $1,000.  The total was $307,151.

Also note that groups such as The Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump, although organized by Republicans and thus nominally Republican, are included under Democrat (Biden/Allies) spending since their purpose was to attack Trump. 

See also:
Wesleyan Media Project: press releases on 2020 Elections.
Facebook: Ad Library.
Google Transparency Project: Political advertising in the United States. (Biden, Trump)
NYU Ad Observatory: Facebook ad data.
Bully Pulpit Interactive: 2020 Campaign Tracker.
Open Secrets: Who are the Biggest Donors

Anna Masoglia and Karl Evers-Hillstrom.  "'Dark money' topped $1 billion in 2020, largely boosting Democrats,"  Open Secrets, Mar. 17, 2021.

Steve Passwaiter.  "Political ad spending this year reached a whopping $8.5 billion.  AdAge, Nov. 23, 2020.

Adrian Carrasquillo.  "Exclusive: Biden Campaign Spent $125 Million on Latino Voters, Who Helped Him Win Arizona."  Newsweek, Nov. 7, 2020.

Marc Caputo.  "How Biden destroyed Trump's TV ad 'death star.'"  Politico, Oct. 18, 2020.

Dan Merica.  "Biden campaign blitzes price football games with series of new ads."  CNN, Oct. 18, 2020.

Nick Corasaniti, Weiyi Cai and Denise Lu.  "Flush With Cash, Biden Eclipses Trump in War for the Airwaves."  New York Times, Oct. 17, 2020.

Audrey Conklin.  "Trump slashes Minnesota ad spending another $1.1 million."  FOX Business, Oct. 16, 2020.

Michael Finnegan and James Rainey.  "Strapped for cash, Trump yanks TV ads in key states as Biden spending surges."  Los Angeles Times, Oct. 10, 2020.  ...local version: "Strapped for cash, Trump pulls ad spending in N.H.."  Concord Monitor, Oct. 12, 2020.

Henry J. Gomez.  "Donald Trump Is Canceling TV Ads In Midwest States That Made Him President."  Buzzfeed News, Oct. 7, 2020.

Lucia Geng.  "New faces emerge among top political donors in 2020."  Open Secrets, Oct. 5, 2020.

Brian Schwartz.  "Sheldon Adelson is plotting a spending spree to help Trump with under 50 days left until the election."  CNBC, Sept. 16, 2020.

Benjamin Hart.  "Trump Pulls TV Ads Off the Air Entirely in Key States."  New York, Sept. 14, 2020.

Michael Scherer.  "Mike Bloomberg to spend at least $100 million in Florida to benefit Joe Biden."  Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2020.

Andrew Seidman.  "Biden outspent Trump $10 million to zero on TV in Pennsylvania last month."  Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 8, 2020.

Jim Small.  "Trump campaign going dark in Arizona, cancels planned TV blitz."  AZ Mirror, Sept. 4, 2020.

Alex Isenstadt.  "Swift Boat mastermind to launch massive super PAC to boost Trump"  Politico, Aug. 31, 2020.

Brian Slodysko.  "Trump goes mostly dark in TV advertising fight with Biden." AP, Aug. 31, 2020.

Alex Isenstadt. "Trump goes dark on TV as early voting looms." Politico, Aug. 26, 2020.

Biden for President. "Memo: General Election Paid Media Strategy," Aug. 5, 2020.
Shane Goldmacher and Kathleen Gray. "Michigan Threatens to Slip From Trump as He Goes Quiet on Airwaves."  New York Times, July 29, 2020.

These pages updated March 25-26, 2021 to correct a small discrepancy in Biden cable spending.