AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Midterm elections are less than one week away, and we're going to take a look at the money that has been pouring into these races. Billions of dollars have been spent on advertising, and most of that money is going to Democratic candidates. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks campaign money, projects that a total of $5.2 billion will be spent during this entire election cycle. The group's executive director, Sheila Krumholz, joins us now to talk about how all of that money is being spent. Welcome.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Thank you - glad to be here.
CHANG: OK, so 5.2 billion - how does that sum compare to previous midterm election spending?
KRUMHOLZ: This is way up from the 2014 midterm election - so 5.2 this cycle versus just 3.8 billion in 2014. That's a 35 percent jump and a record.
CHANG: And how is this money getting spent - TV, radio, Internet, social media? Like, where would you see most of the money going right now?
KRUMHOLZ: TV is still tops in the most competitive races. And overall, kind of pulling back, we see that almost a billion dollars has been spent already this cycle on media, way up from 2014 at this point in the cycle - so media, advertising on TV for the competitive races, digital advertising across the board for all races...
KRUMHOLZ: ...Especially on Facebook.
CHANG: Yeah, I hear it's through the roof this year - Facebook spending.
CHANG: Why is that, you think?
KRUMHOLZ: Well, it was certainly successful in the 2016 election cycle for a lot of victors. So far, I think as of today, Facebook is now up to $296 million. And in terms of FEC-reported digital ad spending, it's $105 million with almost $10 million of that going to the presidential race, so that race has already taken off (laughter).
CHANG: And as we've said, the vast bulk of all this spending is by Democrats, right?
CHANG: You know, I'm curious. When you see one side vastly outspending the other side, is that a sign that that side has a good shot at winning, or is it more of a sign of some insecurity, some lack of confidence?
KRUMHOLZ: I think both come into play. On the one hand, the Democrats are thrilled to see big numbers in their column this cycle, and that is an asset. They - these candidates need money to get their message out on both sides, so that's a positive sign for the Democrats. On the other hand, to the degree that this money is coming from voters in other states - that is not so helpful on Election Day. So there is...
CHANG: That can backfire, you mean.
KRUMHOLZ: It can. It can be viewed as outside meddling by voters in other states that have nothing to do with the interests of the district or the state. It represents people who may be energized about a candidate but are unable to help them on Election Day when it really counts.
CHANG: So that's one way a lot of money can backfire. Are there other ways? For instance, could spending a lot of money on ads actually annoy voters - because I talked to a lot of voters who hate getting bombarded by ads. Could that bombardment depress voter turnout?
KRUMHOLZ: Certainly some of the advertising is designed to suppress voter turnout. They are in opposition to a candidate as opposed to supporting a candidate. So those are going to be especially tiresome for the voters.
CHANG: So more money does not necessarily mean more votes.
KRUMHOLZ: More money does not necessarily mean more votes on Election Day. The candidate who has spent the most typically wins. However, we'll see this year whether the Democratic fundraising advantage will help to drive down the re-election rate, which has been impervious to change, especially in the House races.
CHANG: Sheila Krumholz is the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. Thanks very much.
KRUMHOLZ: My pleasure. Thank you.
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