Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital ad investment across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at whose digital spending is up, whose is down, and whose is non-existent.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
*** SPECIAL ALERT ***
Today, we’re excited to launch the FWIW 2020 Digital Dashboard, an interactive site to help readers sort through campaign digital spending data and see how the political battles of the cycle are being waged online. The FWIW Dashboard includes a first-of-its-kind interactive heat map showing where the majority of 2020 candidates’ digital ads are being delivered across the country.
Check out the FWIW Dashboard here and keep reading, because we dig into why Trump’s focus on Florida may be a sign of a much bigger problem for Democrats nationally.
2020 by the numbers
Facebook and Google recently made retroactive updates to week-over-week spending for political organizations, showing that Trump has actually spent nearly $8.3 million on the two platforms alone since the 2018 midterms. Visit our interactive FWIW 2020 Digital Dashboard here, where you can view the below data and see how digital investments by each 2020 candidate has changed over time.
Last week, Mayor Pete led the Democratic field in digital investment, which was primarily through a nearly $200K investment in Google advertising from April 14 – 20. You can see Mayor Pete’s spike in spending over the last two weeks in the graph below.
Here are the top Facebook and Google spenders from April 14 – 20.
Deep Dive: Have Democrats lost Florida?
Earlier this week, the Census released new voter data showing that 2018 had the highest midterm turnout in four decades: nationally turnout stood at 53%. That’s 11 percentage points higher than voter turnout in 2014 (which was also the year with the lowest voter turnout over the same time period). A significant portion of this increase is due to spikes in voter turnout from young voters and from Latinx voters – and that’s true both nationally and in Florida.
In Florida, Latinx turnout jumped 8 percentage points from 2014 to 2018 – an increase of 508,000 voters in total. Many believe that the influx of Puerto Rican voters to the state after Hurricane Maria could have contributed to that increase – and many might assume that they may have been more likely to vote for Democratic candidates in the state after the controversies surrounding Trump’s visits to the island. However, the trends in Florida tell a different story. (It’s important to underscore that these are assumptions because the Census does not provide information on how many Puerto Ricans voted in Florida in 2018 or which party they may have voted for.)
What the data does show is that Latinx voters voted in record numbers for GOP candidates in Florida last cycle – not Democrats. And that’s a trend we’re seeing getting worse over time. Take a look at how Latinx voters cast their ballots over the last four election cycles:
Even in 2014 (an abysmal year for Democrats), a greater proportion of Latinx voters voted for Democrats across Florida than in 2018, a year with record-high turnout.
So how’d they do it?
We know that Republican Rick Scott put huge investments into reaching Latinx voters in Florida during the Senate race in 2018, but one additional trend we want to highlight is how Republicans across the board took advantage of the crisis in Venezuela and Trump’s saber-rattling towards Cuba to push “Democrats-Are-Socialists” messaging to key voters – and it looks like it worked.
According to exit polls in the heavily-Venezuelan community of Doral, Democrats underperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing by a whopping 20 points, and it’s likely that the trend of Latinx voters moving way from Democrats in Florida is due to older Republican-leaning Cuban voters turning out in large numbers, while turnout among younger, non-Cuban Latinx voters continues to lag.
What does it mean for 2020?
It appears that Donald Trump is taking this winning strategy to secure a victory in Florida in 2020. Back in February, we flagged that the Trump campaign was quietly running hundreds of Spanish-language Facebook ads to Florida voters about standing against the socialist governments of Venezuela and Cuba. Here’s an example:
We dug deeper into the Facebook ad archive and saw that Trump’s campaign hasn’t stopped running these ads. In fact, they’ve continued to run hundreds of ads targeting Florida with anti-socialism messages like these:
Using our FWIW Digital Dashboard heat map, we also found that of the $5 million in digital advertising dollars Trump’s campaign has spent on Facebook, the state where the second largest share of those ad dollars are targeting is Florida. It only lags behind Texas in the share of Facebook ad investment targeting the state.
Even with increased turnout in 2018, Democrats can’t take the Latinx vote for granted – in Florida or nationally. It’s clear that Trump and his Republican allies are playing the long game to secure Florida as safe red territory for elections to come, and they’re driving strategic narratives over multiple election cycles to impact their chances at the ballot box.