Michael Bloomberg’s bottomless pockets are funding campaign ads at a rate of $4.2 million per day, part of his massive investment already showing moderate success for his unconventional campaign strategy.
Bloomberg’s campaign-to-date and planned spending on television, Facebook, and Google from Nov. 25 through Dec. 22 is $117.8 million, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
The sum on ads alone is nearly as much as the $130.7 million that the four top-tier candidates (former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) spent combined on their entire campaigns, including staff salaries, travel expenses, and voter-outreach efforts, from their campaign launches through the end of September.
The ads target national media markets largely ignored by other candidates, part of Bloomberg’s strategy of skipping the first four crowded early state nominating contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina in favor of focusing on March 3 “Super Tuesday” states and beyond.
“It’s unclear what to expect because it’s a crowded field, and he’s gotten into the race so late,” said Mary Snow, an analyst for the Quinnipiac University Poll. “The question of how his massive ad spending is going to affect his campaign is being put to the test.”
Candidates generally prove viability in early states and ride momentum through the rest of the nominating contests, with those who do not place well in early states dropping out. For Bloomberg’s national strategy, rather than a state-by-state retail politics strategy, to work, advertising is crucial.
Spencer Kimball, director of polling and assistant professor at Emerson College, said that advertising has a “major impact” in elections.
“Just having a lot of money obviously doesn’t move the needle,” Kimball said. “But the way Bloomberg is spending his money is targeted advertising. You’re already seeing his numbers increase.”
So far, Bloomberg has seen moderate polling success. Several recent national primary polls find him with 4% to 7% support, leaving him with a 5.5% average in RealClearPolitics’ average of national polls. Aside from the recent dropout of Sen. Kamala Harris of California, no candidate outside the top-tier of candidates has passed 5% in the national average since March.
A nationwide, rather than state-by-state grassroots, strategy has previously been deployed with some success. In 1992, independent presidential candidate Ross Perot deployed a similar nationwide strategy when he bought 30-minute political infomercials to sell his candidacy, Kimball noted. He won nearly 19% of the national popular vote.
President Trump in 2016 also largely relied on building his national persona, though he relied heavily on earned media rather than buying advertisements.
As Biden remains a weak front-runner, at around 25% to 30% support nationally, Bloomberg could make an impact by appealing to nontraditional Democratic primary voters, Kimball said. “That might stir up the race and get him potentially up to 10, 15% of the vote.”
Ads are not the only tool Bloomberg is using. In just under three weeks, the former New York City mayor and businessman, worth an estimated $55.6 billion, has used his personal fortune to build a large campaign operation at warp speed.
Aside from nationwide ads, Bloomberg is paying salaries for more than 300 staff members, 200 of which are at his campaign headquarters. Low-level Bloomberg field staff make $6,000 per month, the equivalent of $72,000 annually. That’s about 70% more than the going rate of $3,500 per month paid by the Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg campaigns.
Although Bloomberg has unlimited funds, his late entry and unusual style pose challenges to his campaign.
Bloomberg will not appear in Democratic presidential debates if current rules requiring a minimum number of grassroots donors hold, because he is not accepting contributions to his campaign. Though in some sense, this can be a positive.
“He can totally control his message through his advertising,” Kimball noted.
Bloomberg has low approval ratings among Democrats and faces criticism from rivals who accuse him of trying to buy the election. The research firm Morning Consult found that he has the highest unfavorable rating, 28%, of any candidate in the race among Democratic primary voters nationwide.
On Thursday, a parody video created by a comedy group and posted by a man who claimed to be a campaign intern showed fake Bloomberg supporters perform a choreographed dance to Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger, a spoof on a dance real Buttigieg supporters created to Panic at the Disco’s High Hopes. The video amassed 2.5 million views and fooled many online commentators who took swipes at Bloomberg’s campaign spending and questioned his support.
“These people look like they were paid to be there,” said Pam Keith, a former Florida congressional candidate.
To clarify, @NickCiarelli is not an intern for our campaign. And he does not have moves like Bloomberg.
— Team Bloomberg (@Mike2020) December 13, 2019
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