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U.S. presidential election reaches milestone: 1-million ads

An Obama campaign ad showed images of Big Bird and sarcastically referred to the cuddly character “a menace to our economy.” It mocked Republican candidate Mitt Romney by saying he is more concerned about a fictional children’s show than about corporate greed.


Every campaign ad in this U.S. presidential election is one in a million.

Last week, in an unprecedented marker for political advertising, the number of ads aired since June 1 passed the one-million mark.

To be precise, 1,015,615 ads paid for by the candidates, their party committees and third-party groups (such as super political action committees) combined were aired on broadcast and cable television across the U.S.

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That number was up 39 per cent from the last presidential election, and 41 per cent from 2004, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, an academic study tracking campaign advertising.

"This is, by far, the most advertising we've seen in a presidential election," the project's co-director, Erika Franklin Fowler, said in a statement. "…Passing the one million mark is a real milestone."

The spending breaks down in an interesting way, as well: Looking at just the two candidates' ad campaigns, Barack Obama's camp has outspent Mitt Romney's by a factor of 2.6 to 1 – airing just over 500,000 ads. However, when third-party groups are factored in, the tally is much closer.

The three top-spending super PAC organizations in this election – Restore Our Future Inc., American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS – collectively aired more than 200,000 ads. That's more commercials than the Romney campaign mounted, and those three groups outspent his campaign significantly.

According to the project, it is the first time that outside groups have outspent a candidate and his party committees in an election.

Here is the project's breakdown on spending in the presidential race from April 11 to Oct. 29:

  1. Barack Obama: $266-million on 503,255 ads aired
  2. Mitt Romney: $105.4-million on 190,784 ads
  3. Restore Our Future (Republican affiliation): $57.6-million on 60,366 ads
  4. American Crossroads (Republican affiliation): $56.9-million on 64,441 ads
  5. Crossroads GPS (Republican affiliation): $45.9-million on 74,092 ads
  6. Americans for Prosperity (Republican affiliation): $35.9-million on 43,091 ads
  7. Priorities USA Action (Democrat affiliation): $32.5-million on 53,612 ads
  8. Republican National Committee and Mitt Romney: $23.9-million on 32,638 ads
  9. Republican National Committee: $21.4-million on 31,258 ads
  10. Democratic National Committee and Barack Obama: $15.3-million on 7,210 ads

* SOURCE: Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project

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