Ad wars: Republicans and Democrats spend big to push messages on abortion, inflation and crime

Ad wars: Republicans and Democrats spend big to push messages on abortion, inflation and crime

Amount both parties have spent is almost triple the total during the last midterms, but their focus has been very different

America’s two largest political parties have spent nearly $10bn (£8.6bn) in political ads ahead of the US midterms.

As the US midterm elections loom, Republicans and Democrats have spent almost $10bn (£8.6bn) so far on ads. It’s a staggering figure, one that exceeds even the spending on the 2020 presidential election, and is almost triple the amount spent during the last midterms.

Both parties – and their dark money backers – have splashed exorbitant amounts on TV, digital and print advertising, but their focus has been very different.

For Democrats, abortion has been a key issue. The party has spent almost 20 times more than it did on abortion-related ads in the 2018 midterms, NPR reported. For Republicans, there have been different messages: that inflation, crime and taxes are out of control.

The result has been a whirling atmosphere for the average American, where to turn on the TV is frequently to see the two parties, and their candidates, talking straight past one another about different things.

Abortion

After the conservative-dominated supreme court overturned the federal right to abortion in June, the issue of who should have control over women’s bodies has been front and center in many midterm races.

Democrats have run more than 240 ads related to abortion rights, seeking to draw attention to the extreme positions of many Republican candidates. These largely centered the personal stories of women who have had abortions. One of the most powerful ads has run in South Carolina, where Joe Cunningham, a Democrat, is bidding to defeat Henry McMaster, the state’s Republican governor.

In the ad, a woman named Fran explains that she was raped by two men when she was 12 years old. She later found out she was pregnant. Fran was able to have an abortion due to Roe v Wade, then recently decided, which legalised abortion in the US.

“Roe versus Wade gave me the opportunity to become an educator, a mother and grandmother,” Fran says in the ad.

“I did what was best for an 88-pound 12-year-old with no other options. I am a survivor of rape: my body is not yours, and it is not the state’s, it’s mine – yet our governor, Henry McMaster, wants to ban all abortions.”

In Pennsylvania, Democrats have repeatedly targeted Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor running as a Republican for the US Senate, over his opposition to abortion, and an ad launched in mid-October features a Pennsylvania doctor describing how, pre-Roe v Wade, he was trained to treat the victims of “back-alley abortions”.

“Too often, women died. I thought those days were long behind us. But not so, with Mehmet Oz,” the doctor says.

One of the most harrowing ads of the entire election cycle comes from Eric Swalwell, a Democratic congressman for California.

It shows a family eating dinner at home when two police officers to arrest the mother for “unlawful termination of a pregnancy”. When her partner attempts to intervene, the officers draw their guns on him, prompting screaming from the couple’s young children as the woman is handcuffed.

“Elections have consequences,” a voiceover says. “Stop Republicans from criminalizing abortion everywhere.”

Republicans, by contrast, have spent a fraction of the Democrats’ total on abortion ads. When candidates have addressed the issue, there has been a two-pronged approach: commercials have claimed, often spuriously, that their Democratic opponents are too extreme on abortion, and that the Republican candidates themselves are moderate.

An ad that aired in Arizona in September, where Republican Blake Masters is hoping to win Mark Kelly’s Senate seat, managed to combine both.

His ad, prosaically titled Arizona’s Mark Kelly Supports Painful Late Abortions, is full of mistruths and dishonest statements – a theme that has run through a majority of TV ads nationwide during the election campaign – claiming wrongly that Kelly supports abortion “right up to the due date”, and stating that Masters himself has sought “compromise” on the issue, despite the Republican having backed proposals that would ban all abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Cost of living

The big spending from Republicans has come on cost of living issues, including taxation and inflation, which reached a 40-year high of 9.1% in June and was at 8.2% in September. Across the country, Republican ads have sought to blame Joe Biden for the rise, frequently citing the $1.9tn coronavirus relief bill he signed in March 2021 as the cause.

In September, ads on inflation accounted for 32% of all pro-GOP advertising, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, and in South Carolina, Republican Nancy Mace has tied the rise in price of everyday items not just to Joe Biden, but Nancy Pelosi, too, in a TV ad called Eggs.

The ad shows Mace, a Republican congresswoman, pouring a glass of milk and cooking some bacon. The price of both has increased, she notes, adding: “I have had it with crazy inflation.”

As the ad continues, Mace offers her plan to bring down the cost of living. It is an unusual plan.

“Here’s what I’m going to do to Biden’s tax and spend agenda,” Mace says. She then cracks an egg and tips the contents into a frying pan.

Other ads have been less avant-garde. An ad running against Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s Democratic senator, also features a clip of some bacon, along with a gas pump, as a breathless voiceover claims Georgia has been “hit hard by sky-high inflation”.

Economists tend to agree that the American Rescue Plan did worsen inflation, Vox reported recently, but there are varying estimates as to how much, and others note that the plan did improve the economy.

Democrats, meanwhile, haven’t done much in the way of pushing back. Wesleyan said inflation makes up only 8% of the party and its backers’ ads, and some Democratic leaders themselves agree that their message has been unconvincing.

The party seems to be picking up the idea up, though, and has released ads on the economy in the last week, including one in New Hampshire which is undermined slightly by some rather unconvincing acting:

The Party bosses

In a neat symmetry, both parties appear to be running from their leaders. According to the Washington Post, since early September Democrats have spent just $3m on ads centering Joe Biden, and Republicans have spent a mere $807,000 on ads highlighting Trump.

Each party has, though, run plenty of ads focusing on their opposing party’s bosses. Republicans have blasted out ad after ad criticizing Biden, mostly over spending during the pandemic. Mindful of Biden’s low approval rating – which is currently averaging about 42% – Republicans have sought to tie Democratic candidates across the country to the president.

That effort contributed to possibly the daftest ad of the entire campaign season: a singsong affair titled Hidin’ Biden that ran against Democratic congresswoman Sharice Davids in Kansas:

Complete with lyrics like: “Sharice Davids, what’s she hidin’, Sharice Davids, she’s hidin’ Biden”, the piano-driven tune highlights that Davids has frequently voted for Biden-backed policies.

It’s a similar but less jaunty story in New Hampshire, where voters are warned that Maggie Hassan, the incumbent US senator who is being challenged by Don Bolduc, a Republican and an election denier, “votes with Joe Biden over 96% of the time”:

Republicans are clearly banking that Biden is unpopular enough to turn voters away from candidates who have even the loosest connection to the president. The GOP, as FiveThirtyEight pointed out, has replicated this format in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Arizona.

Crime

Crime is the only issue where Republicans and Democrats come close to equal spending, according to the Washington Post. Republicans, frequently pushing a dystopian vision of cities ridden by murder and violent crime, have spent $49m on ads discussing crime since early September, compared to $36m invested by Democrats.

The number of murders in major cities has fallen so far in 2022, but remains above the numbers in 2019, and a survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association found that violent crime had risen 4.2% through the first six months of this year compared with 2021.

That has given Republicans plenty of fodder to paint Democrats as soft on crime, in some cases, with racist overtones. “In states as disparate as Wisconsin and New Mexico, ads have labeled a Black candidate as ‘different’ and ‘dangerous’ and darkened a white man’s hands as they portrayed him as a criminal,” the New York Times wrote of the trend.

Mandela Barnes is the subject of the Wisconsin ad, which ends with Barnes’s face positioned next to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – all women of color – while the words “different” and “dangerous” flash across the screen:

In Pennsylvania, Oz has run several ads on crime, claiming: “Today’s kids aren’t safe in our communities.” One spot, titled Crazy Dangerous Ideas, accuses Fetterman of “emptying our prisons”, which, according to the ad, would lead to “more hardened criminals on our streets”:

Democrats, for their part, have run ads featuring themselves with police officers in an effort to rebut Republican claims that the left will defund police forces.

Fetterman has created ads highlighting the work he did to bring down violent crime in Braddock, where he spent 13 years as mayor, with one featuring a local sheriff. Barnes, meanwhile, recruited a retired police sergeant for an ad in September:

“I worked on the force for 30 years,” the retired officer, called Rick, says.

“I’ve seen plenty of politicians. But Mandela, he’s the real deal. Mandela doesn’t want to defund the police. He’s very supportive of law enforcement.”


With less than a week to go until America votes, it remains to be seen which of the party’s strategies will have the most impact.

In the weeks following the supreme court’s Roe v Wade decision, abortion rights became one of the most important issues for voters – and with Democrats’ huge investment in abortion-related ads, the party has been counting on it turning out the vote.

But as inflation and gas prices have risen, polls show that the economy has emerged as the key issue for voters.

Over the past couple of weeks some Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, have urged their party to focus on plans for economic recovery, and late-running ads could reflect voters’ concerns. As the election looms, Democratic supporters will be hoping it’s not a case of too little too late.

Ad wars: Republicans and Democrats spend big to push messages on abortion, inflation and crime

Ad wars: Republicans and Democrats spend big to push messages on abortion, inflation and crime

Amount both parties have spent is almost triple the total during the last midterms, but their focus has been very different

America’s two largest political parties have spent nearly $10bn (£8.6bn) in political ads ahead of the US midterms.

As the US midterm elections loom, Republicans and Democrats have spent almost $10bn (£8.6bn) so far on ads. It’s a staggering figure, one that exceeds even the spending on the 2020 presidential election, and is almost triple the amount spent during the last midterms.

Both parties – and their dark money backers – have splashed exorbitant amounts on TV, digital and print advertising, but their focus has been very different.

For Democrats, abortion has been a key issue. The party has spent almost 20 times more than it did on abortion-related ads in the 2018 midterms, NPR reported. For Republicans, there have been different messages: that inflation, crime and taxes are out of control.

The result has been a whirling atmosphere for the average American, where to turn on the TV is frequently to see the two parties, and their candidates, talking straight past one another about different things.

Abortion

After the conservative-dominated supreme court overturned the federal right to abortion in June, the issue of who should have control over women’s bodies has been front and center in many midterm races.

Democrats have run more than 240 ads related to abortion rights, seeking to draw attention to the extreme positions of many Republican candidates. These largely centered the personal stories of women who have had abortions. One of the most powerful ads has run in South Carolina, where Joe Cunningham, a Democrat, is bidding to defeat Henry McMaster, the state’s Republican governor.

In the ad, a woman named Fran explains that she was raped by two men when she was 12 years old. She later found out she was pregnant. Fran was able to have an abortion due to Roe v Wade, then recently decided, which legalised abortion in the US.

“Roe versus Wade gave me the opportunity to become an educator, a mother and grandmother,” Fran says in the ad.

“I did what was best for an 88-pound 12-year-old with no other options. I am a survivor of rape: my body is not yours, and it is not the state’s, it’s mine – yet our governor, Henry McMaster, wants to ban all abortions.”

In Pennsylvania, Democrats have repeatedly targeted Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor running as a Republican for the US Senate, over his opposition to abortion, and an ad launched in mid-October features a Pennsylvania doctor describing how, pre-Roe v Wade, he was trained to treat the victims of “back-alley abortions”.

“Too often, women died. I thought those days were long behind us. But not so, with Mehmet Oz,” the doctor says.

One of the most harrowing ads of the entire election cycle comes from Eric Swalwell, a Democratic congressman for California.

It shows a family eating dinner at home when two police officers to arrest the mother for “unlawful termination of a pregnancy”. When her partner attempts to intervene, the officers draw their guns on him, prompting screaming from the couple’s young children as the woman is handcuffed.

“Elections have consequences,” a voiceover says. “Stop Republicans from criminalizing abortion everywhere.”

Republicans, by contrast, have spent a fraction of the Democrats’ total on abortion ads. When candidates have addressed the issue, there has been a two-pronged approach: commercials have claimed, often spuriously, that their Democratic opponents are too extreme on abortion, and that the Republican candidates themselves are moderate.

An ad that aired in Arizona in September, where Republican Blake Masters is hoping to win Mark Kelly’s Senate seat, managed to combine both.

His ad, prosaically titled Arizona’s Mark Kelly Supports Painful Late Abortions, is full of mistruths and dishonest statements – a theme that has run through a majority of TV ads nationwide during the election campaign – claiming wrongly that Kelly supports abortion “right up to the due date”, and stating that Masters himself has sought “compromise” on the issue, despite the Republican having backed proposals that would ban all abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Cost of living

The big spending from Republicans has come on cost of living issues, including taxation and inflation, which reached a 40-year high of 9.1% in June and was at 8.2% in September. Across the country, Republican ads have sought to blame Joe Biden for the rise, frequently citing the $1.9tn coronavirus relief bill he signed in March 2021 as the cause.

In September, ads on inflation accounted for 32% of all pro-GOP advertising, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, and in South Carolina, Republican Nancy Mace has tied the rise in price of everyday items not just to Joe Biden, but Nancy Pelosi, too, in a TV ad called Eggs.

The ad shows Mace, a Republican congresswoman, pouring a glass of milk and cooking some bacon. The price of both has increased, she notes, adding: “I have had it with crazy inflation.”

As the ad continues, Mace offers her plan to bring down the cost of living. It is an unusual plan.

“Here’s what I’m going to do to Biden’s tax and spend agenda,” Mace says. She then cracks an egg and tips the contents into a frying pan.

Other ads have been less avant-garde. An ad running against Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s Democratic senator, also features a clip of some bacon, along with a gas pump, as a breathless voiceover claims Georgia has been “hit hard by sky-high inflation”.

Economists tend to agree that the American Rescue Plan did worsen inflation, Vox reported recently, but there are varying estimates as to how much, and others note that the plan did improve the economy.

Democrats, meanwhile, haven’t done much in the way of pushing back. Wesleyan said inflation makes up only 8% of the party and its backers’ ads, and some Democratic leaders themselves agree that their message has been unconvincing.

The party seems to be picking up the idea up, though, and has released ads on the economy in the last week, including one in New Hampshire which is undermined slightly by some rather unconvincing acting:

The Party bosses

In a neat symmetry, both parties appear to be running from their leaders. According to the Washington Post, since early September Democrats have spent just $3m on ads centering Joe Biden, and Republicans have spent a mere $807,000 on ads highlighting Trump.

Each party has, though, run plenty of ads focusing on their opposing party’s bosses. Republicans have blasted out ad after ad criticizing Biden, mostly over spending during the pandemic. Mindful of Biden’s low approval rating – which is currently averaging about 42% – Republicans have sought to tie Democratic candidates across the country to the president.

That effort contributed to possibly the daftest ad of the entire campaign season: a singsong affair titled Hidin’ Biden that ran against Democratic congresswoman Sharice Davids in Kansas:

Complete with lyrics like: “Sharice Davids, what’s she hidin’, Sharice Davids, she’s hidin’ Biden”, the piano-driven tune highlights that Davids has frequently voted for Biden-backed policies.

It’s a similar but less jaunty story in New Hampshire, where voters are warned that Maggie Hassan, the incumbent US senator who is being challenged by Don Bolduc, a Republican and an election denier, “votes with Joe Biden over 96% of the time”:

Republicans are clearly banking that Biden is unpopular enough to turn voters away from candidates who have even the loosest connection to the president. The GOP, as FiveThirtyEight pointed out, has replicated this format in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Arizona.

Crime

Crime is the only issue where Republicans and Democrats come close to equal spending, according to the Washington Post. Republicans, frequently pushing a dystopian vision of cities ridden by murder and violent crime, have spent $49m on ads discussing crime since early September, compared to $36m invested by Democrats.

The number of murders in major cities has fallen so far in 2022, but remains above the numbers in 2019, and a survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association found that violent crime had risen 4.2% through the first six months of this year compared with 2021.

That has given Republicans plenty of fodder to paint Democrats as soft on crime, in some cases, with racist overtones. “In states as disparate as Wisconsin and New Mexico, ads have labeled a Black candidate as ‘different’ and ‘dangerous’ and darkened a white man’s hands as they portrayed him as a criminal,” the New York Times wrote of the trend.

Mandela Barnes is the subject of the Wisconsin ad, which ends with Barnes’s face positioned next to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – all women of color – while the words “different” and “dangerous” flash across the screen:

In Pennsylvania, Oz has run several ads on crime, claiming: “Today’s kids aren’t safe in our communities.” One spot, titled Crazy Dangerous Ideas, accuses Fetterman of “emptying our prisons”, which, according to the ad, would lead to “more hardened criminals on our streets”:

Democrats, for their part, have run ads featuring themselves with police officers in an effort to rebut Republican claims that the left will defund police forces.

Fetterman has created ads highlighting the work he did to bring down violent crime in Braddock, where he spent 13 years as mayor, with one featuring a local sheriff. Barnes, meanwhile, recruited a retired police sergeant for an ad in September:

“I worked on the force for 30 years,” the retired officer, called Rick, says.

“I’ve seen plenty of politicians. But Mandela, he’s the real deal. Mandela doesn’t want to defund the police. He’s very supportive of law enforcement.”


With less than a week to go until America votes, it remains to be seen which of the party’s strategies will have the most impact.

In the weeks following the supreme court’s Roe v Wade decision, abortion rights became one of the most important issues for voters – and with Democrats’ huge investment in abortion-related ads, the party has been counting on it turning out the vote.

But as inflation and gas prices have risen, polls show that the economy has emerged as the key issue for voters.

Over the past couple of weeks some Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, have urged their party to focus on plans for economic recovery, and late-running ads could reflect voters’ concerns. As the election looms, Democratic supporters will be hoping it’s not a case of too little too late.