American presidential elections fall on the same year as the Summer Games, which is ideal for political campaigns looking to pitch their message to undecided voters. After all, the Olympics give you a large audience that mirrors the general population, including many people who avoid political news. This audience is glued to the station carrying the Olympics and not inclined to channel-surf. Further, viewers are likely to be pumped up with patriotic fervor, making them extra-receptive to the patriotic message of political advertising. In 2012, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent nearly $20 million on ads that ran during the Olympics.
As in so many other ways, 2016 is an unconventional year. Hillary Clinton has entered the field with $13 million in Olympics ad spending, but her competitor is nowhere to be seen. Astonishingly, Donald Trump’s campaign is spending zero dollars on Olympics advertising. And it’s not just in Olympics ads that Clinton is winning by default. To date, the Trump campaign has been unwilling to spend one thin penny on television advertising. In comparison, the Clinton campaign has spent $52,300,000 on such advertising. Even smaller campaigns have invested in this area: The Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson has spent $15,000 and the Green Party’s Jill Stein has spent $189,000.
What is going on? A few months ago Trump could’ve argued that he didn’t have the fundraising to back up an ad campaign. This is no longer true. In recent weeks, he’s upped his fundraising game, bringing in more than $91 million. So Trump has the money, he’s just not choosing to spend it. This is further evidence that Trump’s not running a real campaign, but something closer to a scampaign.