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.
We’ve made it through another week of Democratic primaries, daily “press briefings,” and lots of social distancing, and we’re only over halfway through March. In this week’s FWIW, we’ll round up more of what we’re seeing and hearing on how the pandemic is being used by political campaigns and advocacy organizations online to influence the conversation.
2020, by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent $46.6 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the 2018 midterm elections.
By contrast, Joe Biden’s campaign has spent $12.4 million on the same platforms, and the Sanders campaign has spent $21 million. As the Democratic primary comes to a close, we’ll be focusing much more attention on Trump’s spending, which has been lagging in recent weeks, at least on Facebook and Google.
Trump has yet to advertise around the coronavirus directly or indirectly and instead is recycling a lot of past content. This isn’t some newfound restraint – his campaign has aggressively advertised on big presidential moments before – we just assume they don’t want to remind their voters of how dire the situation is.
His newest wave of survey ads on Facebook try to push the narrative that the Democratic primary is rigged against ‘Crazy Bernie:’
…and on Google, they’re re-using old ads slamming Democrats for supporting healthcare for undocumented immigrants, (still) demanding that Adam Schiff resign, urging an investigation into Hunter Biden, and ran an ad last week saying Election Day is a year away (pro-tip: it’s seven months away).
On the Democratic side, Joe Biden continues to significantly increase his spending on Facebook and Google, spending $5 million since Super Tuesday and nearly doubling his campaign’s spend to that point. After an uneventful debate on Sunday night, he swept primaries in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona on Tuesday, building up a major delegate lead against Bernie Sanders.
Since losing Tuesday’s primaries, Bernie Sanders’ campaign stopped running all Facebook advertising as they contemplate their next move. Oh, and while he’s been quarantined, Bernie made his TikTok debut.
FWIW, Tulsi Gabbard finally ended her campaign yesterday and endorsed Joe Biden yesterday, so um… aloha. 🤟
The below chart shows the Biden campaign’s continued spending increase since Super Tuesday.
…and here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google last week:
In some ~personal news~ our affiliated political action committee, PACRONYM, announced a new phase of its Four Is Enough campaign in the Washington Post this week. We’ll be aiming to spend several million dollars over the coming weeks boosting news articles and explainer content on how the President’s incompetence and lack of preparedness for this pandemic have made us all less safe. As Trump pivots his messaging to try to convince voters his administration has the situation under control, we are committed to ensuring voters know the facts.
In contrast to Trump and Sanders, Joe Biden’s campaign has produced at least one ad addressing the crisis head-on. Their latest video, “Together,” is currently running on Facebook in Wisconsin and features Joe’s comments from Sunday’s debate layered with clips of inspirational responses to the pandemic from around the world:
The Trump campaign’s only real response so far? Accusing Biden of “parroting Chinese Communist propaganda.”
Advocating for paid sick leave 🤧
Meanwhile, progressive advocacy organizations have quickly begun advertising on Facebook to call for paid sick leave and other worker protections – targeting both Congress and companies.
MoveOn.org, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Women’s Law Center, Fight for $15, and Justice Democrats are just a few of the groups pushing for expanded (or universal) paid sick leave and other worker protections during this crisis. Here’s some of what they’re running:
These types of outside campaigns are critical at a time when Congress is negotiating public health and financial relief packages – and it seems like everything is on the table.
Flipping the Senate 🏛
The crisis isn’t just impacting politics nationally – down-ballot campaigns in competitive U.S. Senate races are advertising, emailing, tweeting, and messaging on the issue too. This week’s issue of The Senate FYI took a deep dive into how the race for the senate has been impacted – and what campaigns are doing to respond. Give it a read + subscribe here.
As this issue isn’t going away anytime soon, it will become increasingly used by campaigns on both sides of the aisle up and down the ballot. Progressive group 314 Action have already begun running ads slamming Mitch McConnell for his inaction on a relief package:
…and speaking of senators, we’d be remiss to mention that the junior senator from Georgia and senior senator from North Carolina seem to be in a bit of trouble…
New FWIW Podcast
There’s been a number of resources put out recently to advise campaigns on how to operate and organize in a digital-only campaign environment. So, ACRONYM’s founder + CEO Tara McGowan sat down with former ACRONYM and Pete for America National Organizing Director Greta Carnes to chat about effective organizing strategies and how campaigns can adapt. Give it a listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
BONUS: A 2020 campaign email retrospective
In non-coronavirus related content: Corinne Purtill on Medium put together an in-depth analysis of the Democratic presidential campaigns’ email strategies. Want to know what time of day did Bernie Sanders send the most emails? Which campaign referenced ‘Barack Obama’ the most? Take a look.
P.S. Here’s which emojis the campaigns used in their subject lines:
Stay safe out there!
That’s all for FWIW this week! Stay safe, healthy, and sane out there, and if you need some extra reading material while you’re social distancing, we’ve got you covered. We’re tracking the digital battle for control of the U.S. Senate via our new newsletter, The Senate FYI. Check out the latest issues here, and click below to subscribe!