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 sudden passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – may she rest in power – underlined again just how high the stakes are in this year’s presidential election. Even though polling is clear that a strong majority of Americans want to wait on a new nomination to the Supreme Court to be decided by the next president, the Trump administration, Mitch McConnell, and the other hypocritical cowards in the Senate are determined to push through their preferred conservative justice ASAP.
In this week’s FWIW, we dig into how the campaigns and outside organizations are engaging in the fight for the SCOTUS online.
2020, BY THE NUMBERS
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $185.9 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. Joe Biden has spent $111 million advertising on those same platforms. Here’s how much each campaign spent just last week:
Last week, the Biden campaign spent more than double on Google ads than the Trump campaign. This increased spending from the Biden campaign on Google appears to be dedicated to video ads blanketing swing states from Pennsylvania to Florida. Remember: Google no longer allows political advertisers to target 1:1 voter file lists, so they are likely taking a broadcast-like approach to targeting with these ads.
Their digital program has continued to run some straightforward 0:06 second ads, and they’ve also added into the mix 0:30 and 0:15 second testimonials from veteransderiding Trump for calling them and their fallen comrades “suckers” and “losers” and targeting them at rural zip codes in the Midwest.
However, that’s not to say the Trump campaign is getting complacent. Last week, they started running persuasion ads through a dozen new state-focused Facebook pages called “Trump for Pennsylvania,” “Trump for Arizona,” etc., for every battleground state, including Nebraska – but not Texas. It should be noted that while the ads run through each page are all targeted to their respective states, the ads themselves don’t appear to be meaningfully different between pages.
In case you’re curious, last week the Trump campaign spent the most on ads running through its Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina pages. In total, they spent $188k on ads through all of these pages, about five percent of their total FB spend last week.
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:
Careful readers may notice that the Biden campaign has now spent the most on Snapchat ads this year of any political entity so far this year, excluding presidential primary campaigns and issue advocacy groups. That’s because just last week, they made a massive $373k ad buy on the platform. In other words, they spent more on Snapchat ads last week than they previously had all year.
These ads target 18- to 34-year-olds in AZ, FL, MI, MN, NV, NC, PA, and WI, with about 43 percent of the buy targeting PA. These ads push either Biden’s remarks calling Trump a climate arsonist or clips from Biden’s DNC speech, and we suspect that the Biden campaign found the latter to be effective with these audiences since they ran the same ads with a much smaller buy earlier this month.
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 13 – September 19:
Even before the passing of RBG last Friday, the Trump campaign had already started running ads focusing on the Supreme Court, after the president released a list of individuals who he claims he was considering placing on the bench as the third nominee of his term. After Friday, they basically just took these ads and updated them to include what amounts to lip service to the late Justice and feminist icon, like so:
Judging by the videos above (and in a bunch of other similar ads we found), it appears that the Trump campaign’s angle here is to push their message that Biden is refusing to release a list of possible SCOTUS nominees of his own, and that Speaker Pelosi is looking to impeach Trump again in order to distract from the Judiciary Committee hearings.
Most of these ads are primarily aimed to drive fundraising or email acquisition among national conservative audiences, though FWIW, they are running this ad on YT and targeting it at voters in battleground states.
More notably, as of this morning, we have yet to see the Biden campaign run any digital ads on Facebook, Google, or Snapchat mentioning the SCOTUS vacancy or fight. 🧐
The latter video indicates that the Biden campaign understands that a key way to message this issue to voters is not to lament the unfairness of the process of appointing a new SCOTUS judge (nor note McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy on this point) – but is to make clear the stakes of this appointment – namely that tens of millions of people may lose their healthcare if the Senate installs Trump’s third nominee to the Court and immediately moves to gut the ACA.
…And this message frame isn’t just coming from team Biden. While the Biden campaign itself isn’t running digital ads on this – yet – plenty of outside groups have already gotten the memo and they’re running ads that make the stakes clear. Among them are Planned Parenthood Action and Color of Change, for example.
Planned Parenthood Action is targeting their ads at young women in PA, while Color of Change’s ads are targeted at young folks in FL, MI, PA, and WI. Both groups are focusing not on how terrible it is that McConnell is pushing through a nominee, but telling voters what’s really at stake when it comes to SCOTUS’ power to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Our own political action committee, PACRONYM, is running boosted news articles on Facebook that also lay out that threat to Americans’ healthcare, mostly targeted at women of all ages in AZ, NC, MI, PA, and WI. Meanwhile, Indivisible has started running dozens of video ads urging their base to call and apply pressure to Senate Republicans in tight races.
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.