Top 5 negative ads: What super PACs want you to know about Donald Trump


Super PACs across the political spectrum have at least one position in common in this election cycle: They’d strongly prefer if people would please stop voting for Donald Trump.

Attack ads against the Republican frontrunner have more than tripled since his big wins on Super Tuesday, a Fusion analysis shows. Five super PACs have singled out Trump—running as many as 365 attack ads per day combined, almost all in Ohio and Florida, which hold primaries Tuesday.

We scanned the Political TV Ad Archive, which tracks political ads in 20 key markets, to find out how many attack ads were airing each day in these markets, which were airing most frequently, and which super PACs and other advocacy groups sponsored them.

The analysis showed Gov. John Kasich, who is fighting with Trump for a win in Ohio, starting to get some negative attention. But it was clear which candidate the attack ads were focused on.

Source: Political TV Ad Archive, negative ads aired per day targeted solely against a single candidate in the 2016 election cycle as of March 14 across all 20 markets tracked. Not included are ads targeted against multiple candidates or candidates that have since dropped out of the race.

Before Super Tuesday, Marco Rubio was the prime target for negative ads. Those ads were funded primarily by the pro-Ted Cruz super PAC Stand for Truth and by the pro-Jeb Bush group Right to Rise, which spent $87 million on TV ads before his campaign fizzled.

When Bush dropped out, taking his well-funded super PAC with him, the landscape shifted. The super PACs took aim at Trump. A pro-Rubio group took the lead, and a whole new group, Our Principles PAC, was established just to go after the billionaire.

What’s more, traditionally conservative groups not affiliated with a candidate, such as Club for Growth and American Future Fund, are also running attack ads against the frontrunner.

Here’s what the five super PACs running attack ads against Donald Trump want you to know. Especially if you live in Ohio or Florida.

1. Trump ‘thinks we’re fools’

Markets: Orlando, Miami, and Tampa metro areas.
Sponsor: Conservative Solutions PAC

The super PAC Conservative Solutions was formed in February 2013 by supporters of Rubio. To date, it has spent more than $55 million, including $16 million against Rubio’s Republican rivals, according to, which tracks political spending. The super PAC has spent $4.7 million just attacking Trump, much of that in recent weeks.

2. ‘Trump makes big money off illegal immigrants’

Markets: Orlando and Tampa metro areas.
Sponsor: Our Principles PAC

Our Principles PAC was formed in January expressly to thwart Trump’s campaign. It has spent $12.2 million, according to

3. Trump ‘picks on workers and widows’

Markets: Orlando and Tampa metro areas
Sponsor: Club for Growth

Club for Growth, which advocates for less government regulation and lower taxes, has spent $2.2 million against Trump under its advocacy organization, which is known as a 501(c)(4) and is treated differently from a super PAC by the IRS. The group also ran an ad claiming Trump would support higher taxes. Trump responded by calling members of the Club for Growth “stupid” and “extortionists” and threatening to sue.

4. ‘We can’t trust Donald Trump’

Markets: Orlando, Tampa, and Cincinnati metro areas.
Sponsor: American Future Fund

The American Future Fund, known as a 501(c)(4) group, spent more than $24 million in the 2012 election cycle, nearly all of it supporting the Republican candidates running against President Obama. This time, things are different. The conservative group is taking aim at its own. The American Future Fund has spent $8.5 million against Kasich, Cruz, and Trump, most of it against Trump.

5. Trump thinks this country is a ‘hellhole’

Market: Philadelphia metro area
Sponsor: Priorities USA Action

Priorities USA Action is a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. It’s spent the least against Trump and has run fewer ads than conservative super PACs in recent weeks. In the markets tracked by Political TV Ad archive, it is the only Democratic-leaning super PAC to target Trump, and according to has spent $28,670 to date.

Do negative ads influence voters?

At least one survey has found that they can be effective. It’s possible that just as Rubio’s campaign faltered after the barrage of attack ads leading up to Super Tuesday, Trump’s campaign could wither under attack.

Then again, correlation is not causation, and many factors influence people’s votes. As the ad above points out, and the candidate himself has said, it’s also possible that Trump could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and [he] wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

Data source:
All campaign TV ad data is as of March 14. Source: Political TV Ad Project. For more information on how the Political TV Ad Project monitors and captures ads, visit the project’s site.

Super PAC and 501(c)(4) expenditures data is as of March 14. Source:

Kate Stohr is a data journalist and community builder based in San Francisco, CA.

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