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.
By this time next week, the Democratic primary for president will likely be in a completely different place. The next four days could quickly decide the fate of the Democratic nomination, or confirm our suspicion that the primary will remain a long, hard slog until the July convention. Voters in South Carolina and in critical Super Tuesday states have been bombarded by Democratic door-knockers and digital ads (and even some “digital door knocks!”) over the past week, so we take a look in today’s newsletter at what some of these voters are seeing in the Palmetto State and beyond.
2020, by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $44.7 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the 2018 midterms. His campaign scaled back some of their spending this week – notably MIA in key battleground states on Facebook – and we’ll keep an eye out to see if it lasts…
Also on the Trump front, Bloomberg reports that his campaign has already purchased a full YouTube Masthead takeover for Election Day in November, a prime piece of digital real estate that can cost up to seven figures.
Here’s the Trump campaign’s week over week Facebook + Google spending:
Following a hot mess of a debate on Tuesday night, the Democratic campaigns have been laser-focused on reaching voters in South Carolina and beyond. It’s also the end of the month, which means *once again they are asking for your financial support.* Perhaps no one has made a better fundraising ask than Danny DeVito, who got a little too close to the camera this week helping Bernie with fundraising video ads on Facebook:
..and Pete Buttigieg’s campaign launched an online game to bring in some additional cash – supporters can compete to get their name on a leaderboard by being the first to give a specific dollar amount.
Ahead of Super Tuesday, a number of candidates have ramped up their online spending in a last-ditch effort to raise money or get their message in front of the expanding map of primary voters. Bernie Sanders’ campaign spent more last week on Facebook + Google than any other week during the campaign. Here’s how much everyone spent last week:
But maybe no one has more at stake on Tuesday than Mike Bloomberg, who crossed the $100 million mark this week on Facebook + Google spending. Will his massive advertising strategy pay off and will his dollars translate into votes? We’ll find out on Tuesday night when his name appears on the ballot for the first time across 14 states. FWIW, here’s Mike Bloomberg’s digital spend compared to the rest of the field:
…and here are the top spenders on Facebook + Google last week:
Trying to prevent the media-hyped #BidenBounceback at all costs, Bernie’s campaign has been running several ads geared towards black voters in the Palmetto State. One video speaks on criminal justice reform, civil rights, and gun violence, and features a young Bernie Sanders at sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. Another, featuring a shot of Sanders and President Obama together, is narrated by an African-American woman who has switched from supporting Biden to Bernie, because Bernie “has the movement and the momentum.”
That said, Bernie’s campaign hasn’t funneled large amounts of digital dollars into South Carolina specifically, knowing that it may be a hard battle to top Biden.
Here’s how much the leading candidates have spent on Facebook in South Carolina over the past week, from Feb 19th to 25th:
Biden’s ads, on the other hand, rely on two of the most important messengers for reaching Dem primary voters in South Carolina: Barack Obama and Jesus. 🏻One ad features Joe in a church and quotes scripture. Another has him standing proudly side by side with the former President.
Trying hard to stay in the mix, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has been running Facebook ads in South Carolina featuring positive articles in publications with African-American readership like The Root, Blavity, and Essence:
… BUT we have to mention that one of the biggest online spenders in South Carolina is pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country. They’ve spent more than $46,000 in the past seven days boosting Biden there – similar to the approach they took to lift Biden’s support in Iowa and Nevada.
1,357 delegates up for grabs
The bigger prize, however, are the 1,357 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday – about a third of the total possible delegates in the primary. Of course, voting in delegate-rich states like California and Texas has been ongoing since before Nevada, so let’s take a look at how the candidates have been talking to these voters online in the past 30 days, if at all.
Bernie Sanders, who currently holds the most delegates and the strongest polling in almost every state, seems to be continuing his aggressive outreach to Latinx, working-class, and young voters. He’s spending thousands on early voting education ads targeting young voters in California and Texas, and he’s spending tens of thousands on English and Spanish acquisition ads that attack billionaires (read: the Trump administration).
Elizabeth Warren, who has long invested in hiring staff across Super Tuesday states, is also reaching out directly to voters with an anti-billionaire message. However, she seems to be leaning hard into her animosity toward Michael Bloomberg, and she’s targeting that messaging and biographical spots at smaller Super Tuesday states like Colorado, Maine, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Maybe most importantly, she’s the top (non-Bloomberg) spender in her home state of Massachusetts on Facebook – as a loss to Bernie Sanders there on Tuesday would be a pretty devastating blow to her campaign.
Bloomberg, for his part, is of course running thousands of ads on basically every major issue all over the country. Many of his ads targeting California seem to be targeted toward older voters there, and it looks like his spinoff pages (California for Mike, TX for Mike, NC for Mike, etc.) have also been reaching older voters with organizing ads.
Finally, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign continues to innovate in digital organizing. Not only are they continuing to include local supporters in their advertising – and then targeting their voices back to their home states – but now they’ve started reaching out to potential Pete voters in a really interesting way: by canvassing online. The campaign has recruited about 200 volunteers in Super Tuesday states to reach out to @PeteForAmerica’s followers in those states in an effort to mobilize Mayor Pete’s online grassroots support.
One more thing… sign up for The Senate FYI!
That’s all for FWIW this week! But before you go, we have one more ask of you! 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!