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Feeling Ad Fatigue? You Should. More Than 3.3 Million Ads Have Run In The 2016 Elections.

Political ad spending across the country has surpassed $2.3 billion, with 3.3 million ads run in the 2016 elections, according to a new report released by the Wesleyan Media Project with the Center for Responsive Politics.
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Political ad spending across the country has surpassed $2.3 billion, with 3.3 million ads run in the 2016 elections, according to a new report released by the Wesleyan Media Project with the Center for Responsive Politics.

Nearly 1 million ads have aired in the presidential election alone, at an estimated cost of over $750 million. Since the beginning of the general election, ads supporting Hillary Clinton have outnumbered those backing Donald Trump on national cable by nearly three-to-one.

Clinton dominates local cable advertising as well.

For the first time, the Wesleyan Media Project incorporated real-time data on local cable airings from NCC Media, which shows that Clinton's ad buy advantage is even more substantial than previously reported. In a stark contrast to Clinton's 332,817 local cable airings just since Labor Day, Trump did not purchase a single local cable spot from Labor Day through the end of October.

Clinton has aired only half the ads Obama ran in 2012 overall while Trump has run roughly one third as many as Romney did during the same period. Trump falls further behind when ad buys by parties and outside groups are included. The entire pro-Trump camp has sponsored about one ad for every five the Romney effort ran.

Failed presidential contenders still winning the ad war

Campaigns and super PACs of candidates who left the race during the primary are still top contenders for airing the most ads in the 2016 presidential election.

Two of the top three outside spending groups running ads in the presidential contest supported candidates who dropped out during the primary. Outdone only by Priorities USA, pro-Bush Right to Rise and pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC each ran more ads than any other outside group in the presidential race despite reserving no airtime since long before the general election.

The figures are even more staggering because Conservative Solutions PAC's ranking does not include ads purchased by Conservative Solutions Project, a 501(c)(4) group that spent an additional $8 million on nearly 5,000 ads supporting Rubio in the primary without ever disclosing its donors. It was the second biggest political advertiser in the presidential race in 2015.

Bernie Sanders still holds second place for ads aired by any 2016 presidential campaign, outnumbering ads run by the Trump campaign 128,000 to 101,000. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton still tops the list, having spent over $219 million on television ads.

Dark money goes dark

Ads run by "dark money" groups--politically active nonprofits that do not disclose their donors--continue to be scarce following a recent plunge when the FEC reporting requirement kicked in. Those groups now account for just two of the top 10, and the landscape of political ads looks very different than it did earlier this year. Before the FEC's reporting window opened in early September, nondisclosing groups accounted for more than 27 percent of all outside group advertising in the 2016 cycle, according to an August analysis.

The remaining nondisclosing groups on the top 10 list are One Nation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which respectively aired 20,216 and 18,374 ads in 2016 races. That's a staggering rise from a mere decade ago when all nondisclosing groups combined averaged less than 18,000 ad spots per cycle.

Outside spending overall has continued to boom, thanks to super PACs.

Unsurprisingly, Priorities USA--a super PAC spending largely in support of Clinton--is the top group running ads this cycle. Less predictably, Democratic groups top ad airings in the Senate and House as well as the presidential race.

North Carolina's Senate race saw the most ads in the last two weeks, with over 26,000 airings. Pennsylvania has seen over 100,000 ad airings overall, making its Senate race tops for ads this cycle.

Presidential candidates play nice (at least in ads)

Despite the ugly nature of the 2016 presidential election, the tone of political advertising has continued to be more positive than previous cycles.

In the last two weeks, pure attack ads comprised just 41 percent of airings in the presidential race; in the last three cycles, more than 60 percent of airings during the same period were attack ads. Nevertheless, the overall majority of presidential ads this cycle have been negative.

In Senate races, though, about half the ads are attacks -- consistent with the last four election cycles. North Carolina tops the list of least positive Senate races, with only 8 percent of ads being positive in tone. Nevada has the highest number of attack ads with 79 percent.

It's even worse in House races. Three out of every four ads in Florida and Minnesota are negative. Even in the sunniest of House races, just 16.1 percent of ads run in recent weeks are positive.

Michigan's 1st Congressional District wins the take-no-prisoners award nationally, though. Although it has only seen 315 local broadcast airings, every single one has been an attack ad, making it worst in the nation.