Candidates, party committees and outside groups combined could spend as much as $3.2 billion on television advertising in the 2012 election.
That estimate comes from Ken Goldstein, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a firm that tracks and analyzes political advertising.
To put those numbers in perspective, about $2.1 billion was spent on television advertising in 2008, up 30% from the previous presidential cycle in 2004. The 2010 midterm saw $2.4 billion in TV ad spending, up 30% from 2006.
Goldstein expects TV ad spending to exceed 2010 levels, but doesn’t see it increasing as drastically as in previous years.
The “$3.1 billion to $3.2 billion is the most that would be spent,” he said, noting it could be as low as $2.5 billion.
Despite the growing popularity of Internet advertising, TV will continue to dominate the political ad market because “it’s still the only way to reach passive voters,” Goldstein said.
If it seems strange that a presidential election year could cost about the same, in advertising terms, as a midterm cycle without a major national campaign, it’s important to note the role that geography played in 2010.
That year, there were a number of gubernatorial and Senate races in states with high-priced media markets, which forced campaigns to make expensive buys to get their message out to voters in key statewide elections. In 2012, the competitive statewide races are in places like Montana and Missouri, where airtime is much less expensive.
Still, Goldstein said, voters in swing states will be deluged with ads.
“The only way you’re not going to see an ad in Florida is if you don’t have a television,” he said.