State Elections

Published — November 3, 2016

10 things to know about 2016’s state elections

More than $600 million spent on TV ads about those other Nov. 8 races


Amid the ongoing circus that is this year’s presidential election, it may be easy to forget all the other races on the ballot.

In North Carolina’s state Supreme Court election, outside groups such as this one called Fair Judges have run eight out of every 10 ads about the race to determine a single seat on the seven-person bench. Youtube/Fair Judges

Voters will be picking 12 governors, several thousand legislators and scores of other state officeholders on Nov. 8. They will also decide policies on marijuana, minimum wage, gun control, tobacco, drug prices and other key issues in 162 statewide ballot measures.

The Center for Public Integrity is tracking the political TV ads that are shaping those races.

So far, more than half a billion dollars has been spent to air ads about those campaigns around the country. Here’s where some of that money went:

  • More than 640,000 ads have aired so far about 2016 races for state offices. That’s already more than what aired in the comparable 2012 races. 
  • The dozen governors’ races dominate the airwaves. They account for 1 out of every 2 TV ads aired about state races. 
  • An estimated $54 million has been spent on political TV ads about Missouri’s state elections. That’s the equivalent of more than $12 spent per possible voter. 
  • Ads about statewide ballot measures in 23 states have cost more than $340 million, with California leading the spending, followed by Massachusetts, then Oregon.
  • About $188 million has been spent on the TV ads about California’s statewide ballot measures alone, with a third of that spent on Prop. 61 that calls for limiting drug prices. 
  • Montana’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte has run more TV ads than any state candidate in the country this election season. If aired back-to-back, they would last nearly 13 straight days
  • Outside groups are playing a bigger role this election, accounting for more than 28 percent of the spending on TV ads about state races. 
  • Proxy groups for the Republican and Democratic governors associations are duking it out in the Vermont governor’s race, airing a third of all the TV ads about the race.
  • With the shape of the Kansas Supreme Court at stake this election, two dueling outside groups have aired an estimated $900,000 worth of ads combined on whether voters should kick out five of the seven sitting justices. 

Sources: Center for Public Integrity analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data current through Oct. 31; U.S. Census/Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey.

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