Here is what statewide candidates have spent on advertising ahead of the general election
Heidi Ganahl is the only Republican to advertise on television
Screenshots from advertisements for (clockwise from top left) Gov. Jared Polis, John Kellner, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Heidi Ganahl, Pam Anderson and Phil Weiser.
As ballots head out to voters across the state this week, Coloradans can expect a continued flurry of campaign advertisements to hit their televisions, streaming services and internet browsers as candidates for statewide office push their messages.
It is an industry that involves tens of millions of dollars in Colorado. Colorado Newsline analyzed political television advertisement contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission from the eight major party candidates for statewide offices across seven channels. The broadcast channels included are CBS4, 9NEWS, Denver 7, FOX31, KWGN, KRDO and KKTV.
That analysis did not include outside advertising spending, which accounts for many more millions of dollars spent by third-party groups supporting or opposing certain candidates.
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TV ads “remain important, even as people’s media habits are changing quite a bit,” according to Michael Franz, a director with the Wesleyan Media Project who teaches at Bowdoin College.
“It remains a really effective way of reaching a lot of voters relatively quickly,” he said.
Additionally, Franz said, ads for candidates in races like secretary of state or treasurer are often more effective than ads for topline ballot candidates. Voters may not have as much information about the Republican candidate for treasurer, for example, than a high profile candidate for U.S. Senate or the presidency who gets a lot of earned media attention and who voters might approach with a pre-formed opinion.
“These ads can be pretty informative. People’s opinions on these candidates are not well formed, so they can be somewhat persuasive,” he said.
The extreme majority of ad spending among Colorado campaigns — that excludes outside spending from political action committees — has been from Democratic incumbents vying for governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general.
Gov. Jared Polis, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Attorney General Phil Weiser and Treasurer Dave Young collectively spent over $7.1 million to advertise on those seven broadcast networks in the months leading up to Nov. 8.
By comparison, Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent, is the only Republican statewide candidate to have a broadcast TV ad. Her campaign has spent approximately $580,000 to advertise on those channels.
TV advertising is expensive and the cost depends on the channel, time of day and show. A 30-second spot during CBS’s weekday local news at 5 p.m. costs about $1,000, for example, while a similar spot during the station’s Thursday primetime hour between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. costs $4,500. Meanwhile, a spot during the 5 a.m. morning news on smaller KKTV runs about $30.
Across the board, however, candidates widely try to advertise during local news in the morning and evening and during the shows immediately after.
“Traditionally, local TV news has been important because you get a lot of high-information people and people who are likely to turn out to vote. There’s a lot of undecided voters and persuadables,” Travis Ridout, a professor at Washington State University who also works with the Wesleyan Media Project, said.
Polis leads the pack with TV advertising spending with nearly $3.9 million of media buys across the channels analyzed. He spent the most with CBS4, including two spots during Broncos home games at $70,000 each. He spent less money on spots for other NFL games on various channels, including a $15,000 spot on 9News.
Those types of buys are minuscule in the context of Polis’ multimillion campaign spending, but it’s a move that would be hard for Ganahl’s more cash-pressed campaign to justify.
“That generally is less about trying to influence the vote, as much as it might be trying to flex their muscles to the media, saying that they have enough of a budget to advertise on that venue, to spend big money on that ad. Yes, they’ll reach sports fans, but I think it’s more about drawing attention to the campaign than anything else,” Franz said.
While the Democratic incumbents bought their ad space much earlier in the year — as early as January in some cases — and added on some spots as the election draws closer, Ganahl’s modest media buy occurred in early October.
She spent about $615,000 on TV advertising from the beginning of October until Election Day.
That includes $52,000 worth of spots during “Next With Kyle Clark” on 9News. Ganahl has called host Kyle Clark an “activist” and declined to debate Polis on 9News due to “biased reporting” by one of the debates’s moderators, presumably Clark.
Griswold spent over $1.6 million on TV ads, and Weiser shelled out over $1.4 million. Young spent approximately $270,000.
None of the trio’s Republican challengers are advertising on TV.
What about digital advertising?
Federal law does not require digital services, like social media outlets and streaming services, to disclose ad buying figures, so it can be difficult to put together a complete picture of spending in that increasingly-popular space.
“Digital is definitely growing each election cycle, and quite rapidly,” Ridout said.
Polis’ campaign has spent about $840,000 on expenditures it categorized as digital advertising, according to financial filings with the secretary of state’s office. That includes a nearly $700,000 buy in late September with Precision Strategies, a company that works on advertising across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
According to Google’s political ad transparency report, Polis has spent about $253,000 on 92 ads — mostly video — on Google platforms.
While Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, has its own political ad library, it is difficult to narrow spending to a specific date range, such as this election cycle, which presents a challenge when an account such as Polis for Colorado has been advertising since 2018. Over the last 90 days, Polis for Colorado spent about $184,000 on 184 ads through Meta.
Franz said that advertising on Facebook is a way for candidates with less cash to get more bang for their buck.
“Sponsored Facebook posts are a lot cheaper than your standard TV ad and can be targeted in better ways,” he said. “While the TV spot gives you a wider audience and the quick and easy way to reach a lot of people, Facebook messages can be targeted towards people who might be more predisposed to give you money or their email.”
Despite that, Ganahl doesn’t seem to be advertising heavily on Meta platforms. Over the past 90 days, her campaign page has spent about $850 on 28 ads. Her campaign reported a $116,000 expenditure right after the June primary that it described as digital space buys.
Ganahl has spent $24,300 on Google advertising, but most of that was in the primary election cycle — she has spent just $9,800 on eight ads after the primary election.
Weiser’s campaign has spent about $65,000 on Meta ads in the last 90 days, Griswold’s campaign has spent about $47,000 and Young’s campaign hasn’t spent anything.
On the Republican side, attorney general candidate John Kellner has spent about $1,000 in the last 90 days on Meta, secretary of state candidate Pam Anderson has spent about $3,900 and treasurer candidate Lang Sias has spent a little less than $600.
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