Spoiler alert: This year’s election is getting even more pricey.
We reran the numbers, and have a new-and-improved prediction for the total cost of the 2016 federal election: at least $6.9 billion, about $350 million more than we predicted last week. This time, we were able to make a more precise comparison by analyzing data from exactly matching dates in 2012 and this year — appropriately enough, Halloween. However, it’s important to keep in mind these are just estimates, and there is a good chance the real total will be far different.
When adjusted for inflation, our head-to-head comparison tells us we’ll likely see at least $308 million more spent in total over 2012. As with our last analysis, the biggest driver of the leap is spending by outside groups, which makes up about 26 percent of all total spending, compared to 16 percent at this point in 2012.
These entities, mostly super PACs that are not supposed to coordinate with campaigns, have spent almost 73 percent more this year compared to 2012, breaking into 10 digits with $1.4 billion, compared to $787 million last presidential cycle. More than half, or 55 percent, of outside group spending so far has come from conservative groups, while 37 percent comes from groups favoring liberal candidates.
(Numbers in chart are adjusted for inflation)
When it comes to candidate spending, on the congressional side there’s been a slide since the last presidential cycle: House candidates have spent 16 percent less, while Senate candidates spent a whopping 25 percent less as of Oct. 31 of both years. Presidential candidates, on the other hand, have increased spending, from $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion, a 10 percent bump up. In total, candidate campaigns have spent $190 million less than their 2012 counterparts, when adjusting for inflation.
All entities (outside groups, candidates and parties) will spend $105 million less this year on the race to the White House, what with Trump’s historically low fundraising numbers and disenchanted megadonors shifting resources down the ballot. We see that pivot in the data, which predicts almost $414 million more spent on congressional races – despite lagging outlays by the candidates — than four years prior. Besting 2010’s record of $4 billion by about $245 million, 2016 will boast the priciest congressional races ever.
Since 1998, the GOP has usually bested Dems in the spending contest, with 2008 and 2004 the exceptions. This year continues the trend: Republicans will spend about $216 million more than Democrats, pouring out $3.3 billion compared to $3.1 billion.
Senior Researcher Doug Weber contributed to this post.