TV campaign ads, Milwaukee has 2nd most nationwide

You can't escape them – they're in your mailbox, on your phone, on the radio and on television – advertisements trying to sway your vote.

Follow the cash, and you'll find evidence that Wisconsin is one of the most important battlegrounds. 

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According to a new report from the Wesleyan Media Project, Milwaukee ranks second in the nation for campaign ads on TV – 8,800 have been broadcast in the past two weeks.

Those ads are nearly evenly split between the U.S. Senate and governor's races.

Milwaukee was second to Las Vegas. Showing the importance of Wisconsin, Green Bay was number five and La Crosse was number 25 in total ads run in the two week stretch.

Wisconsin tops the nation for Senate race spending with more than 14,000 spots in the past two weeks, according to the report.

Who's winning the spending war?

The Wesleyan Media Project found, in the past two weeks, Gov. Tony Evers and his supporters have run 6,130 ads compared to 4,065 for Republican challenger Tim Michels and his supporters.

A separate study from AdImpact Politics looks at total ad spending and found Wisconsin hosts the country's most expensive gubernatorial election. Republicans are spending $16.8 million compared to Democrats' $38 million.

However, AdImpact found Republicans spending more in the Senate race – $49 million to $40 million for Democrats.

By the numbers

Of the 14,180 U.S. Senate ads that aired in Wisconsin from Sept. 5-18, the Wesleyan Media Project:

  • 7,182 ads were pro-Democrat
  • 6,998 ads were pro-Republican
  • 63% were attack ads
  • 37% of ads favoring Mandela Barnes were negative against Ron Johnson
  • 90% of ads favoring Johnson were negative against Barnes

And for Wisconsin's gubernatorial race, out of 10,195 ads:

  • 6,130 ads were pro-Democrat
  • 4,065 ads were pro-Republican
  • 74% were attack ads
  • 79% of ads favoring Evers were negative against Michels
  • 67% of ads favoring Michels were negative against Evers

Attack ads help paint a picture of the candidate. When voters say they don't know enough about a candidate to have an opinion, it leaves an opening to paint a picture with an attack ad.

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Midterms are breaking records for the negative ads. The Wesleyan Media Project found, nationwide, 54% of Senate ads were negative from Sept. 5-18 – beating the same time span in previous elections.


  • Promote: 35.4%
  • Contrast: 22.9%
  • Attack: 41.7%


  • Promote: 25.6%
  • Contrast: 22.5%
  • Attack: 51.9%


  • Promote: 31.8%
  • Contrast: 23.5%
  • Attack: 44.7%


  • Promote: 31.2%
  • Contrast: 27.1%
  • Attack: 41.7%


  • Promote: 24.6%
  • Contrast: 31.0%
  • Attack: 44.4%


  • Promote: 25.8%
  • Contrast: 19.5%
  • Attack: 54.7%

And for the gubernatorial races, Wesleyan Media Project found:


  • Promote: 35.7%
  • Contrast: 19.4%
  • Attack: 42.1%


  • Promote: 36.1%
  • Contrast: 20.9%
  • Attack: 42.9%


  • Promote: 28.5%
  • Contrast: 20.5%
  • Attack: 51.0%

These numbers compare September 5 to September 18 for each election year and include broadcast TV. The data comes from Kantar/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. 

As the data show, not all ads are attacks. Those promoting candidates also try to paint a picture in a favorable light. Candidates like to show themselves doing things like filling up their gas tanks, driving around town in their favorite pickup truck and visiting construction sites wearing more relatable clothing – in Wisconsin that is usually either a sweater vest or flannel, but definitely no stuffy ties.