After one very expensive night, Mike Bloomberg has ended his presidential bid today. The billionaire former mayor of New York said the “delegate math has become virtually impossible,” and endorsed Joe Biden.
The candidate spent $558 million on ads before ever appearing on a state Democratic primary or caucus ballot. Despite this, Bloomberg had a lackluster Super Tuesday, when 14 states decided that they preferred former vice president Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders over Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Bloomberg won the contest in American Samoa, but none of the Super Tuesday states. According to the Associated Press, Bloomberg should come out of last night’s races—once tallied—with 44 delegates, while Biden, Sanders and Warren will have about 453, 382 and 50 respectively. That means Bloomberg spent more than $12.5 million on ads per delegate.
It’s essentially a two-dog race at this point, proving that all the money in the world couldn’t buy Bloomberg a fighting chance.
Erika Franklin Fowler, an associate professor of government at Wesleyan University and the director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks and analyzes political advertising, said that Bloomberg could never advertise his way to the top of the field.
“Advertising matters at the margin. It can certainly increase name recognition and candidate favorability, especially in places where a candidate is unopposed on air, which Bloomberg enjoyed for a long time,” Franklin Fowler said. “But one should never have expected advertising to do the sole work here, especially given other dynamics of earned media and candidate consolidation.”
According to media research firm Advertising Analytics, Bloomberg spent an gobsmacking $73 million in California alone—which had 415 delegates up for grabs—but fell just short of 15% of the vote, behind Sanders and Biden. (Bloomberg spent $4 million just on California radio ads.) In Texas, where he spent $54 million, Bloomberg also garnered about 15% for another third-place finish.
Biden was the night’s winner and, having only spent $2 million on ads in the Super Tuesday states, showed that a candidate does not have to bow at the altar of political ads in order to create a coalition and motivate them to vote.
Franklin Fowler said we shouldn’t write the obituary for political advertising, as doing so would “oversubscribe effects to paid media that we know are well outside of what we would expect them to be.”
“Advertising is not and has never been the end-all-be-all campaign strategy,” she said.