As Joe Biden’s lead in the polls over Donald Trump expands, so does the battleground state map. The Trump campaign appears to be eyeing states that Hillary Clinton barely carried in 2016, like Minnesota and New Hampshire, while also spending cash to reach voters in states that went handily to him last time around including Iowa, Ohio, Georgia, and even Texas. This landscape provides openings for the Biden campaign to lean into – and they are. In this week’s FWIW, we take a look at how the campaigns are playing online in a couple of these states.
2020, BY THE NUMBERS
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $93.2 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. Joe Biden has spent $41.5 million advertising on those same platforms. Here’s how much each campaign spent just last week:
With just over 100 days left before E-Day – and after demoting their campaign manager to senior advisor, the Trump campaign does not appear to be letting up on their efforts to flood Americans’ Facebook News Feeds, Google search results, and YouTube videos with their digital ads. In fact, last week was the campaign’s highest spending week in history, nearly hitting $7 million spent on Facebook and Google alone. However, now that Brad Parscale’s out (SAD!), it will be interesting to see if they continue this heavy online investment into the final stretch.
FWIW, here are the rest of the top spenders on Facebook last week:
While the Biden campaign is still pumping out quite a lot of fundraising and list-building ads on Facebook, it seems they’ve now introduced a flight of new, short six-second to 15-second persuasion video ads targeting voters in AZ, MI, WI, PA, NC, and FL.
For example, one series targeting Arizona voters counters any one of Trump’s ridiculous and obviously false claims about COVID-19 by arguing, in Spanish, “Lies don’t pay the bills.” Another, targeting Michigan voters, simply says “Middle class values / Joe Biden was born in Scranton, PA,” laid over some hometown footage of him. And that’s the whole ad – and a smart approach since people tend to lose interest after 10 seconds or so when delivered longer ads online.
Here’s what last week looked like in terms of Google advertising:
Each week, we’re breaking down Facebook spending in key presidential battleground states, beginning with Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. We’ll soon be expanding our tracking here to include additional states we think may be in play. Here’s how much the campaigns and major outside groups spent on ads focused on the presidential race from July 5th to July 11th:
With the Trump campaign turning their Facebook ad spending way up, they’re starting to keep pace with the coalition of Biden + progressive outside groups who have worked to close the digital funding gap this cycle. While spending on the Left on the platform in key states remains steady, it would appear that the Trump campaign’s spending alone in each state has grown to nearly match or even surpass the next four top spenders combined.
THE OTHER BATTLEGROUNDS
While the Biden campaign seems to mostly be focusing on the most pivotal states that have decided presidential elections in recent cycles, there are also several more states coming into play as the nation strongly rejects the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. Could Democrats flip Iowa or Ohio this time around? Is this the cycle they finally turn Texas blue? Should Biden play defense in places like Minnesota and New Hampshire?
Let’s go to Texas first. Whoever wins Texas has a huge advantage given Texas would deliver 38 electoral votes (compared to Michigan, for example, which would deliver 16 electoral votes) and because of its size, it is also one of the most expensive states in the country to play in. That isn’t deterring the Biden campaign, however, who made waves this week by releasing their first TV ad in Texas, signaling they may make a run for the Lone Star State’s massive electoral college haul.
While Texas has been inching leftward in very recent years, the state will still be difficult for Joe Biden to even play in, even now. To make matters worse, it’s a massive, expensive state, and its voters are flooded online with small-dollar fundraising ads from campaigns all over the country. Over the past 30 days, the Trump campaign spent over $1.6m on Facebook ads in the state, while the Biden campaign spent a little over $215k – and this was very likely almost all fundraising.
As far as we can tell, it looks like the Trump campaign hasn’t been targeting Texans with unique ads on Facebook other than those targeting their base for merch sales and email signups. For example, their scare-tactic ad that falsely claims Joe Biden wants to defund the police was recently tested with audiences in Texas, as well as other swing-y states like those key Rust Belt states Trump so narrowly won in 2016, FL, NC, AZ, and more.
Now, let’s take a look at Minnesota and New Hampshire, two states Clinton only barely won in 2016 and that the Trump campaign has its eyes on as possible pickup opportunities this go-round.
In MN, where the murder of George Floyd catalyzed one of the biggest protest movements in recent history, the Trump campaign is still running their ads about “the liberal mob,” ANTIFA, and the above scare tactic ad about defunding the police. 🤬 But again, for the most part, the ads shown to Minnesota are part of a mix of targeted states.
Over the past 30 days, the Trump campaign spent over $270k on FB ads here, while the Biden campaign spent about $66k.
One notable advertiser there, however, is Alliance for a Better Minnesota PAC, one of the only outside groups spending heavily on persuasion advertising at the moment. They’re fighting the good fight and reaching voters day-in and day-out with boosted news articles highlighting Trump’s failures :
Finally, let’s take a look at how Joe Biden might be shoring up the Granite State online. Here, the Biden campaign has spent about $21k on FB ads and the Trump campaign has spent about $80k over the past 30 days. Since the Biden campaign seems to be focusing their persuasion ads elsewhere, New Hampshire voters are primarily getting pretty conventional list-building and fundraising ads like the ones below, at least for now.
While persuasion advertising efforts in many of these emerging “battlegrounds” haven’t yet heated up – we’re certain it will soon. As the race changes and Election Day approaches, campaigns and outside groups will be adapting their spending strategies based on new opportunities for wins – but hopefully without letting too much confidence driven by friendly polls overhaul their map entirely. In short, let’s not forget how close the race was in 2016, fam. We’ll keep an eye on the edges of the map, and will soon begin reporting on spending across many of these additional states.
BEFORE YOU GO…
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.