Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy in the 2020 elections. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and reach voters. For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
The conventional wisdom of this presidential race points to a handful of core tipping-point states that will determine the election – places like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Florida (lookin’ at you, Bloomberg). However, as we should all be painfully aware, just because pundits and analysts rate other states as “Lean Democrat” or something similar does not mean that those states aren’t in play. Every single Electoral College vote will count, and it’s clear that the campaigns aren’t taking a single one for granted.
In this week’s FWIW, we take a look at what digital tactics the Biden and Trump campaigns, as well as some outside groups, are using to reach and move voters in four periphery states right on the cusp of turning purple: Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Ohio.
2020, BY THE NUMBERS
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $179 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. Joe Biden has spent $98.7 million advertising on those same platforms. Here’s how much each campaign spent just last week:
The Trump campaign shrunk their Facebook spending by more than half from the previous week to last week. Team Biden’s spending on the platform also shrunk, but not nearly to the same degree, and unlike the Trump campaign, their spending on Google ads increased.
The Biden campaign’s growth in Google spending was largely driven by an increase in persuasion ads running through the Biden for President page on YouTube, a trend that has continued into this week.
On Monday, they ran what appears to be hundreds of :30s, :15s, and :06s ads on the platform targeting battleground states like FL, NC, and WI, including one featuring an adorable corgi sleeping in a hammock(), likely projecting how carefree we could all be with a President Biden at the helm. Also in the mix are ads that target portions of a border community in south Texas.
FWIW, here are the rest of the top spenders on Facebook last week:
Here’s what last week looked like in terms of Google advertising:
Each week, we’re breaking down Facebook spending in key presidential battleground states – with a few new ones in the mix this week. Here’s how much the campaigns and major outside groups spent on ads focused on the presidential race from September 6 – September 12:
TAKE NO VOTE FOR GRANTED
MINNESOTA – 10 EC votes
Here’s 90-day Facebook spending data for presidential campaign advertising in Minnesota:
The president’s ads targeting The Land of 10,000 Lakes are about as on-message as their campaign gets. They focus on jobs, jobs, jobs, but also hit on their insistent plea that Joe Biden has “embraced the policies of the far Left.” We’re sure that the actual, real Leftists in Minnesota would be thrilled to hear that, though! FWIW, it looks like the latter scaremongering ads are primarily targeted at men in MN.
Going back a bit further, we can see that Minnesotans on Facebook were subjected to the relentless misinformation and red-meat rhetoric that the Trump campaign loves to use in their list building and fundraising ads. Remember Obama-gate? Well now it’s Biden-Obama-gate apparently.
The Biden campaign’s persuasion ads typically target Minnesota in a mix of battleground states in the Midwest and the South. We did find one recent ad that the Biden campaign appeared to test among Minnesotans, and it focuses on auto manufacturing jobs and primarily targets young folks.
One outside group advertising in the state caught our eye: the Alliance for a Better Minnesota PAC, a super PAC affiliated with former MN Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL. The group runs its ads through two pages: Alliance for a Better Minnesota, and MN vs Trump.
Through both pages, they run a strong “boosted news” program, and they’re promoting homemade testimonials from Minnesotans that touch on how real people in the state are being negatively impacted by Trump’s failures. They also recently started running ads promoting Democrats running for the MN state legislature and voting education ads targeted primarily at young folks. Democrats only need to flip two state Senate seats to gain a majority in that chamber and form a Democratic trifecta in the state.
NEVADA – 6 EC votes
Here’s 90-day Facebook spending data for presidential campaign advertising in Nevada:
The Silver State is another state where Hillary Clinton narrowly won that the Trump campaign is desperate to flip. So, it makes sense that they’re one of the biggest FB spenders in the state. Recently, they’ve started testing ads touting the fact that the Big 10 college football conference will be resuming their season, which is an interesting choice considering that the nearest Big 10 school is in Nebraska. They’re also testing clips from what appears to be a diverse focus group that argues, falsely, that Biden will raise their taxes.
FWIW, as far as we can tell, the Trump campaign hasn’t run any Spanish ads in Nevada since late July.
Since pundits and prolific blue check marks no longer seem to see Nevada as competitive this year, there do not appear to be many outside groups targeting voters in the state. However, one of the biggest outside groups targeting Nevada has been the SEIU’s political arm, which has been running ads here and in other swing states since at least late August. They are explicitly targeting Nevada, though, through their SEIU Nevada FB page with animated pro-Biden video ads in both English and Spanish targeting mostly young Nevadans.
NEW HAMPSHIRE – 4 EC votes
Here’s 90-day Facebook spending data for presidential campaign advertising in New Hampshire:
New Hampshire is where Trump officially began his political ascension, but will it play a part in spelling his defeat? Given the Granite State’s unique political preferences relative to the rest of New England, and the fact that it’s yet another state where Clinton underperformed in 2016, you’d think they’d be gunning for it. However, they really don’t appear to be targeting it as heavily as they are other states.
Their recent ads targeting the state are for the most part ads that overwhelmingly target Maine (presumably for that one EC vote in ME-2) but barely bleed over into NH. Like so:
Joe Biden’s campaign has also not been targeting NH quite as much as other battleground states. However, they clearly have the state on their mind, because recently they started running FB ads trying to organize older women for Biden.
OHIO – 18 EC votes
….Andddd here’s 90-day Facebook spending data for presidential campaign advertising in Ohio:
Ohio, the biggest state of this bunch, has been leaning rightward in recent cycles, but a favorable Democratic environment and Joe Biden’s moderate brand both appear to be putting the Buckeye State in play.
Much like in NH, the Biden campaign has started running FB ads to organize women in the state. Here, though, they’ve pulled in Sarah Jessica Parker – who is an Ohio native, apparently – to target older women. They also ran ads for a virtual Labor Day parade in the state, which interestingly primarily targets young women in the state.
For all intents and purposes, Ohio is very much Trump’s state to lose. He won the state by eight points in 2016, but if he loses it this year, he can probably kiss the Oval Office goodbye. His campaign is running the Big 10 ads we mentioned earlier in this state, which makes a ton more sense considering the prominence of Ohio State University football.
Otherwise, they seem to be targeting Ohio with the exact same FB ads that they’re targeting other battleground states with, which is in-line with their digital strategy so far. Recently, they started running ads that accuse – again, falsely – Biden of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare. Unsurprisingly, these ads target older voters in OH.
BEFORE YOU GO…
That’s it for FWIW this week! Before you go, we have one more ask of you. As the general election heats up, it’s more important than ever for our friends and colleagues to stay in the know on what’s happening with the campaign. If you’re one of the over 14,000 people who enjoy reading FWIW each week, give us a follow on Twitter, and help get out the word by forwarding this email to two friends who care about democracy + the money that influences it.