US Midterms 2018: Political ads, and the PACs that fund them

Pat Hong Posted by Pat Hong

Search advertising isn’t just for companies looking to win over consumers. Every two years, search also becomes a battleground for political advertisers looking to win over voters. For this years election cycle, besides the spotlight on Trump and fierce rhetoric between rival candidates, there has also been a focus on digital transparency and advertising standards.

This year, the Google Transparency Project which was a response to digital transparency initiatives has published data on all political ads and advertisers on the platform. So which advertisers, states, and candidates have been drawing the greatest ad spend according to the latest Google data?


Which States have seen the most ad spend?

Biggest ad spend by congressional district?

The biggest spending PACs?

– Weekly ad spend by biggest political advertisers?

Hottest political keywords?

– Hottest political keywords by weekly ad spend

Most influential ads? And the PACs that fund them.

– Nevada

– Missouri

– Beto O’Rourke vs Ted Cruz, Text vs Video

– Trump

All data from the Google Transparency Project.

Which States have seen the most ad spend?

  • Political advertisers have spent $6.8M in Florida, and $4.9M in California since May.
  • Based on Google data, advertisers believe that battleground states Missouri ($4.1M), Tennessee ($3.9M), and Arizona ($3.6M) will be where the Midterms will be won. These states are seeing extremely high ad spend investment in political search.
  • Indiana ($2.9M) , Nevada ($2.8M) , Texas ($2.4M), and Minnesota ($2.2M) are also seeing high ad spend.

Ad spend by state ($)

Biggest ad spend by congressional district?

  • Drilling down into congressional districts, there are clear hotspots where advertisers are focusing ad spend:
    • MO-01 (St Louis)
    • NV-01 (Las Vegas)
    • NV-03 (Southern Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City)
    • TN-05 (Davidson, Dickson Counties, Nashville)
    • AZ-07 (Phoenix, Glendale)
    • NV-02 (Reno, Carson City)
    • CA-45 (Orange County)
    • FL-10 (Orange County, Orlando)
    • MO-05 (Kansas City, Jackson County)

Who are the biggest spending organizations?

  • Among the top 15 biggest spending organizations, those backing Republican candidates spend 1.6x more in Google than equivalent Democrat supporting organizations [$18M (R) vs $11M (D)].

Weekly Ad Spend by Biggest Political Advertisers

  • The Senate Leadership Fund, the biggest spending Super PAC committed to “protecting and expanding the Republican Senate Majority” dramatically raised their weekly political spending in September.
  • Beto for Texas have been ramping up weekly ad spend since early October.
  • Independence USA PAC have dramatically increased weekly ad spend since early October, and were the had the biggest weekly spend in the w/c 21st October.

Hottest Political Keywords

  • ‘beto o rourke’ is the keyword that is driving the greatest political ad spend, with over $2.2M dollars being spent on the term during 2018.
  • The keywords ‘ted cruz’ and ‘beto’ also drove ad spend in Texas ($400k and $300k respectively).
  • ‘rick scott’, ‘ron desantis’, and ‘bill nelson’ were the keywords driving ad spend in Florida.
  • ‘phil bredesen’ and ‘diane black’ were the keywords driving ad spend in Tennessee.

Hottest Political Keywords by weekly ad spend

  • ‘beto o rourke’ has been the most lucrative political keyword since early September with political advertisers now spending over 400k per week on this term.
  • That is 4x as much as advertisers are spending each week on the term ‘ted cruz’.

Most influential ads? And the PACs that fund them.


  • Nevada is a highly contested district with NV-01 and NV-03 seeing especially high ad spend.
  • Republican PACs, the NRCC, NRSC, the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation are all investing heavily in the state, targeting voters with geo-specific campaign strategies.
  • The NRCC employed precise geo-targeting in the NV-04 district with a negative video campaign on Democrat Candidate Stephen Horsley, attracting up to one million views.


  • Ad spend in Missouri is once again being driven by Republican PACs, including the NRSC, the Senate Leadership Fund, and One Nation.
  • The Senate Leadership Fund have run a negative campaign against Claire McCaskill with the tag line ‘Claire McCaskill’s gone Washington’, targeting voters in highly contested congressional districts in Missouri such as MO-15.
  • The pro McCaskill ‘McCaskill For Missouri’ campaign did not micro-target districts, but did target Missouri voters with video campaigns. The campaigns ran with the slogan, ‘Claire McCaskill, who has never left Missouri’, and have spent a total of $730k on political advertising since May.

Texas (and text vs video)

  • More than any other political advertiser, Beto for Texas has spent the vast majority of ad spend on text ads.

  • Beto’s campaign, which does not accept donations from any PACs or special interest groups, spent considerably less than other advertisers on video ads.
  • Between May and November 2nd just the advertiser ran 20 video (YouTube) campaigns, as opposed to 145 text ad campaigns. It’s estimated that these videos drove less than 5% of ‘Beto for Texas’s’ total $1.7M ad spend.
  • Google data reveals that Beto for Texas’ text ad campaigns have been running for over 4 months, and have been viewed up to 4 million times.
  • Ted Cruz, on the other hand, has opted for a more video based strategy.


  • One of the longest ongoing political advertising campaigns on Google has been a display and video advertising campaign from Trump Make America Great Again Committee (Google advertiser summary).
  • The ads, which encourage voters to take a survey or sign petitions demanding ‘The Wall’ have driven $1.6M in political advertiser spend.

This kind of transparency around political advertising is undoubtedly a good thing. However there’s a lot of data and this really only scratches the surface.

Does anything surprise you about the findings? Or have you found some interesting nuggets of your own.

If you would like to discuss anything further, get in touch.

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About the author

Pat Hong
Pat Hong
Pat is the Digital Content Strategist at Adthena. He works on Adthena's content projects, covering adtech news, trends, and insights. He studied Film and Television at the University of West London.