A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obamacare Ad Onslaught


Since 2009, it has been a campaign tradition: Election cycles filled with ads about the Affordable Care Act — and overwhelmingly ads attacking the law and those who support it. The 2014 midterm election could be even more intense, with an onslaught of advertising that rivals several years’ worth of anti-ACA spending.

Kantar Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending, found that $500 million had been spent on advertising about the health care law from 2009 through mid-2013. It expected another $500 million to be spent by late March 2015, the five-year anniversary of the law. That’s the same amount of spending in roughly half the time. Going forward, we could see more pro-ACA ads than we have in the past — President Obama proudly boasted on April 1 of the sign-ups on state and federal marketplaces, after all. But Kantar’s earlier tracking saw critics outspending proponents by a margin of 5 to 1.

Those numbers haven’t been updated since last summer, but Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar, told us in an email: “The political ad spending continues to be overwhelmingly — really almost exclusively — tilted toward negative ads than positive ones.”

Indeed, when we sorted through ads picked up by Kantar since January, we found only a few supporting the law among a slew of attack ads criticizing it, most of which came from one group — Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group founded by billionaire businessman David Koch. The Cook Political Report called Americans for Prosperity “the most prolific advertiser of the 2014 cycle.” AFP TV spots in House and Senate races from January 2013 through late March 2014 were more than double the number of spots from Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, the leading Democratic outside-spending groups, as this graphic from Kantar shows.

The few pro-ACA ads we found did come from Senate Majority PAC. But its advertising has been drowned out by the deluge from AFP. As of March 22, AFP had aired more than 14,000 spots in nine Senate races and more than 4,000 in nine House races, according to Kantar. Not all of those are anti-Obamacare ads, but much of the group’s advertising has focused on the law.

Whether the ads come from groups like AFP or congressional candidates, many of the TV spots about the health care law make general, and misleading, claims about “millions” losing insurance, premiums “skyrocketing,” or families “hurting.” And we’re still seeing claims about a government takeover of health care, despite the fact that the law brings new business to private insurance companies and won’t lead to universal coverage.

We’ve written about these types of claims before. Many times. But with the ad avalanche continuing — and perhaps intensifying as the November midterm election approaches — we’ve summarized our previous findings and updated them with the most recent research on these common lines of attack.

For more on the onslaught of Obamacare ads, see these stories in “Party Lines” — a FactCheck.org feature on misleading talking points:

‘Millions’ Lost Insurance

‘Skyrocketing’ Premiums

ACA ‘Hurting’ Families

Government-Run Health Care

— Lori Robertson