Political advertising is set to break a new record in 2018, driven by an explosion in digital ads, according to a new report.

For the first time ever, digital advertising on websites and mobile devices will go over $1.8 billion as Senate, House and local races turn to cheaper internet-based outreach and advocacy campaigns.

The report from Borrell Associates put the total expected expenditures at $8.5 billion, a record for a non-presidential year.

That is a one year, 73 percent jump over what Borrell estimates was spent on political ads in 2017, $4.9 billion. It 2.5 percent higher over what was spent in the last midterm election, 2014.

“We’re facing an important year in 2018 because many will consider it a referendum on what happened in 2016,” said report author Kip Cassino, adding, “PAC money has swelled up considerably in advance of this, and it’s only the beginning of what is likely to be a never-ending campaign of political marketing in both odd-numbered years and even-numbered years.”

The report analysis added that digital, and especially social media, will see massive growth:

Television advertising – both broadcast TV and cable – are likely to retain the lion’s share of all political dollars. In 2017, they commanded slightly more than half. But those shares are slipping as candidates and causes broaden use of digital media, particularly social media. Borrell estimates that digital advertising will account for 22.1 percent of political spending in 2018, or $1.8 billion. Social media advertising is expected to account for more than $1 billion next year.

That spending on social sites is likely to draw new attention from the Federal Election Commission which last month put a new focus on advertiser disclosures.

Among the key takeaways from the new report:

  • More than half of the money spent on political advertising in 2018 will come from PACs and special interest groups registered on the state or local level.
  • Nearly 2,000 candidates have already filed for 33 open U.S. Senate seats.
  • There will be tens of thousands of other candidates for governor and lieutenant governor races, state house seats, local judiciary, school boards, and municipal elections. Not to mention ballot and recall issues.
  • About half of all digitally placed political advertising will be placed via the programmatic networks, but local newspapers, radio, & TV may stand to gain greatly if candidates and PACs feel spooked by ad placement uncertainty and go with specific local "trusted" sites instead.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com