It’s now make or break for this cycle’s major TV ad spenders.
With Iowa and New Hampshire both in the rear view, the focus now shifts to Nevada and South Carolina, where self-funder Tom Steyer has invested significantly. In South Carolina alone, he’s invested $16.3 million in broadcast and radio spots. If his cable buy is included, that total is closer to $17 million going back to July when he first went up on the air, according to a tally by Sage Media Planning & Placement.
Steyer’s also made an eight-figure investment on TV in Nevada, a state where no other candidate has come close to cracking a $1 million in TV spending, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Following these February contests, there’s a major test for rival self-funder Michael Bloomberg, who’s staked the bulk of his $300 million investment in TV and radio advertising on winning big on Super Tuesday.
Now, the question is whether these candidates’ ad-spending-driven poll numbers can translate into actual votes on Election Night?
Take Andrew Yang’s performance in the two early states. While Yang wasn’t self-funding, he cut a similar profile to Steyer and Bloomberg in that he’s not a known quantity to Democratic primary voters who have their pick of a popular former vice president, an also-ran from 2016 and up-and-coming senators. Moreover, Yang invested a sizable amount on TV in Iowa and New Hampshire in an attempt to keep pace with his fellow candidates.
Coming off a 1 percent finish in Iowa where he spent more than $4.4 million on TV alone, Yang ended his presidential run Tuesday after coming in below Tulsi Gabbard with 2.8 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.
Yang’s TV ad spending — some $3 million according to the Wesleyan Media Project’s latest report — had him in 4th place just behind winner Bernie Sanders, who spent more than $3.7 million on national network, national cable and broadcast television in New Hampshire.
Steyer and Bloomberg were the state’s biggest spenders. But Steyer took only 3.6 percent of the vote after spending some $15.6 million on TV spots in the state, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Bloomberg wasn’t on the ballot in New Hampshire, but still spent more than $6.2 million, likely because of the bleed over to Super Tuesday state Massachusetts.
Yang wasn’t a major spender on digital, but he did pour money into Facebook in New Hampshire in the last 30 days. His nearly $85,000 on Facebook ad spending in the state was only topped by Steyer, who spent $283,460 and Sanders, who spent $101,004, according to ACRONYM’s estimate.
Yang had been polling at 3.7 percent in Iowa before the caucus. He hit 5 percent in some surveys of New Hampshire. While the campaign joked about its stubborn poll numbers, Yang’s media buyers got criticized by other practitioners.
Democratic media buyers Cathy Buckley, Eileen Proudlock and Jade Brown, of Sage wrote in C&E that Yang’s team “made a mistake in November when they initially only bought stations in the Boston market instead of the King Kong station for New Hampshire. While the vast majority of the state is covered by the Boston media market, there’s only one TV station that is physically located in New Hampshire, and that’s WMUR, which is where most of the eyeballs in the state are going for their news and local programming.
“While Yang's team added WMUR to the buy later that same November day, it was widely understood in the political buying community that they made a mistake and left WMUR off their original order.”
Eric Ming, Yang’s digital and paid media director, disputed that account to C&E but declined to comment further.
The candidate’s email to supporters on Tuesday night said the numbers weren’t there to continue. “[W]hile there is great work left to be done, I am the MATH guy,” he wrote. “And it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race. I am not someone who wants to accept donations and support in a race that we will not win.”
Steyer and Bloomberg will have to make a similar calculation after March 3.