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 race for the White House has fundamentally changed since last week’s issue of FWIW, with nearly every candidate calling it quits and endorsing Joe Biden. Bernie and Biden both made huge delegate gains on Tuesday night, and despite Tulsi Gabbard still hanging on to her one or two delegates, it’s become essentially a two-person race for the nomination between two old white men who represent very different flanks of the Democratic Party. We take a look at the new state of the race online and more in this week’s FWIW.
2020, by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over 45.3 million dollars on Facebook + Google advertising since the 2018 midterm elections. In the past two weeks, he’s scaled back his spending on both platforms, and is currently being outspent by groups like ours and others in key battleground states online.
Yesterday, Popular Information’s Judd Legum reported that Facebook was allowing the Trump campaign to run misleading ads that used U.S. Census-related language to build their list and presumably get higher conversions. But by the end of the day, and because of Judd’s reporting, Facebook reversed course and said they’d remove the ads in question.
On the Democratic side, our charts and graphs look a lot emptier without Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Mike Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom ended their campaigns since last Friday. Here’s how much the candidates remaining in the race spent on Facebook and Google ads last week:
Both Sanders and Biden outspent the Trump campaign on Facebook + Google during a seven-day period last week, and have each continued to increase their spending since. While Joe Biden has a lot of catching up to do in terms of matching the Sanders’ campaign spending dollar-for-dollar online, his team has demonstrated they’re ready to rock and roll: They’ve spent over 20% of their total campaign Facebook ad spend in just the past seven days.
To our pleasant surprise, Biden’s campaign was the biggest (non-Bloomberg) spender on Facebook on Super Tuesday, and was the top spender on Wednesday.
…and these are the top spenders on both Facebook and Google last week. This chart should look very different next Friday, as outside groups and PACs replace Democratic campaigns as top spenders.
Next Tuesday’s Contests 🗺
On Tuesday, around 400 more delegates will be up for grabs with primaries in Michigan (125), Washington (89), Missouri (68), Mississippi (36), Idaho (20), North Dakota (14), and Dems Abroad (13). These states reflect some very real demographic differences, and there are already signs that Biden and Bernie have built different strategies to engage voters there online.
Here’s how much each campaign has spent on Facebook in the past seven days in the largest of those states:
In Mississippi, some of Joe Biden’s video ads on Facebook look very similar to those he ran in South Carolina, highlighting his faith and his relationship with Barack Obama to African American voters.
Meanwhile, Bernie’s team is running the same video ad to voters in Michigan and Missouri telling them to turn out next Tuesday and directing them to find their polling location at iwillvote.com.
Chasing Ballots on Facebook
Both Biden and Sanders are using Facebook advertising to target their voters in their key states and instruct them to mail in their ballots before next Tuesday. Biden’s campaign is using ads to target his voters to return ballots in Michigan, and Bernie’s making the straight-to-camera appeal for ballots in Washington state.
Joe’s Follower Deficit
Looking at the campaigns’ organic social media following, Bernie Sanders benefits from a much larger megaphone to reach audiences online. Although paid distribution of content on Facebook is really important, on sites like Instagram and Twitter, his campaign is able to get more eyes on their content without having to spend a penny in paid promotion. FWIW, both leading Democrats have a fraction of the following that Donald Trump has. While Sanders has over 11 million followers on Twitter, Trump has over 73 million.
Outside groups like Center Action Now and the Big Tent Project who oppose Bernie Sanders’ candidacy spent significantly on Facebook ads in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, but since then have paused all their advertising on the platform, at least temporarily.
Watercooler Politics, an anti-Biden Facebook page with ties to the Justice Democrats, has also paused its ads. It’s unclear if they’ll resume hostilities this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s votes – but we’ll keep an eye out.
🎙 New #FWIWPod!
A new episode of the FWIW Podcast is available for download! ACRONYM Founder + CEO Tara McGowan sat down with GQR’s Jiore Craig to speak about how perception is shaped and influenced online – and how it impacts eventual election results. Give it a listen here.
BONUS: Lessons from Liz
We’ve said it before and will say it again: Elizabeth Warren’s campaign introduced several new digital tactics that will live long after the campaign ends. Her endless selfie lines, color-coordinated “liberty green” Twitter squad, and small-dollar donor call time videos have changed the way campaigns will engage online in the future. We’re going to miss both her and her digital campaign in the primary but can’t wait to see what plan she rolls out next. 🖤
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!