Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
The nation entered a historic moment this week after a whistleblower complaint accusing the President of the United States of using his office to get Ukraine to help his 2020 re-election bid led to the announcement of an official impeachment inquiry by Congress. As that battle over impeachment began on cable news and in Congress, we took a closer look at how it’s been playing online.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $18.9 million on Facebook and Google advertising alone since the 2018 midterm elections. About two weeks ago, the Trump campaign, via its Trump Make America Great Again Committee (pronounced “T-Magic” 🧐) started running Facebook ads from Mike Pence’s page – the first time they’ve done so this cycle. Guess they’re not kicking him off the ticket after all — or are they? 🤷♂️Moving forward, we’re going to include that spending in the Trump MAGA Committee sections of our charts and graphs.
On the Democratic side, Pete Buttigieg continued to lead the field in spending last week, as many of the leading candidates increased their spending on fundraising ads ahead of this quarter’s FEC filing deadline (aka #EOQ).
Despite leading in many polls, Joe Biden’s campaign is consistently behind the other leading candidates in digital spending each week – currently in sixth place for cumulative spending on Facebook + Google.
FWIW, here are the top political spenders on Facebook + Google last week:
Deep Dive: ImpeachMINT
As the impeachment battle ramps up, both sides are beginning to reveal their communications strategies through their digital programs. While the Democratic candidates were split on how much to invest in pushing pro-impeachment messaging online, the Trump campaign and its allies are all-in and are activating their base to defend the president. Let’s take a look:
Is Impeachment a Cash Cow for Republicans?
Since Tuesday, every single new Facebook ad (of which there are over 500) launched by the Trump campaign mentioned impeachment. As the impeachment news was breaking Tuesday and Wednesday, the Trump campaign spent a combined $496,162 on the platform, which would make Wednesday one of Trump’s highest-spending days on Facebook since we’ve been tracking.
Combined with Google data which is provided with a one-week lag, next week’s issue of FWIW will likely show the scale of this week’s massive digital spending increase from the Trump campaign.
There were two other points this year in which the Trump campaign sharply increased their digital spending: during the government shutdown / border wall fight in January, and around the first Democratic debate in June. It’d be hard to see how this doesn’t exceed both of those moments for the campaign.
For Trump, these ads launching the “Impeachment Defense Fund” and “Impeachment Defense Task Force” aren’t trying to persuade the general public of anything – they’re energizing his hardcore supporters to line up behind him, hand over their email addresses, cell phone numbers, and hard-earned cash. Trump’s Campaign Manager tweeted that within 24 hours of the impeachment inquiry announcement, their campaign and the RNC had raised a combined $5 million from small dollar donors online. Impeachment may be bad for democracy, but it could be prove to be a serious boon for the President’s campaign war-chest.
FWIW, all of the the Trump campaign’s text messages to supporters this week contained impeachment-related fundraising asks too.
…and it’s not just the Trump campaign using impeachment to pad their wallets. The NRSC, NRCC, and several Republican state parties went up this week with online fundraising campaigns pushing dozens of Facebook ads on the issue.
The Democrats’ Digital Response
On the 2020 campaign trail, nearly every major Democratic presidential candidate had some type of online response to Tuesday’s news. Most of the campaigns quickly blasted out impeachment-themed email alerts to energize their supporters to donate (Click on the emails to enlarge):
There was one notable exception: At the time of writing this newsletter, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign hadn’t sent a single email out all week mentioning impeachment. 🤔In fact, our friends at @DemPrimaryEmail tell us that his campaign hasn’t sent an email mentioning impeachment ever, or at least since they began tracking in April. That shouldn’t be surprising, since Mayor Pete’s campaign has mostly focused on aspirational messaging to “change the channel” from our current political situation.
When it comes to Facebook ads, we noted in FWIW in June that only a few campaigns – O’Rourke, Warren, Booker, and Harris (and Steyer, although he wasn’t a candidate at the time) – had run any significant advertising online in favor of impeachment.
That dynamic hasn’t changed much – Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, and Castro have continued to lean into the issue, as Biden, Sanders and Buttigieg continue to exclude the impeachment issue from their online ads strategy. That could soon change, as the primary heats up and the Democratic base demands proactive support for the impeachment effort.
Here’s some of what they’ve been running since news broke this week:
As you can see, many of the Democrats are using the issue in the same way as the Trump campaign – to target their die-hard partisans with messages to energize them to join the campaign, take action, and donate.
We should note that Biden’s campaign did however run multiple ads over the past week taking the President to task over his attacks on his family, and his campaign announceda record fundraising haul as a result.
Perhaps previously seen as being on the sidelines of the issue, the DNC even joined in on the action this week, running several dozen acquisition and fundraising ads in support of Pelosi and House Democrats.
BONUS: What your Republican uncle is seeing on Facebook
One frustrating and bizarre talking point we noticed on cable and in the press this week from Congressional Republicans was some type of “both sides” argument equating Joe Biden’s alleged action’s as VP with the likely criminal behavior of the President. Much of that comes from a seemingly coordinated effort by right-wing media personalities to push anti-Biden conspiracy theories in order to deflect from Trump’s own problems dealing with Ukraine. 🤬 The conservative digital media ecosystem excels at turning fringe theories into major media narratives – especially the ones that amplify Trump’s own agenda and it appears that these ads below are further example of that:
One more thing… 🤳
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