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.
Last Thursday, calls for Donald Trump’s impeachment grew louder after special counsel Bob Mueller held a surprise press conference that reinforced much of the nation’s doubt in the President’s innocence (Editor’s note: He’s totally not innocent.) The President pushed back, calling impeachment a “dirty, filthy, disgusting word.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Democrats took to the airwaves, social media, and the campaign trail to state their positions on the issue…and the 24 Democrats running for president were sharply divided. In this week’s issue, we take a look at who’s actually putting dollars behind their position on impeachment, and who’s already moved on. How are (or aren’t) these campaigns using the issue to fire up their base, recruit supporters, and maybe even raise a little money? We’ll give you the deets in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign continued to sharply ramp up their digital spending over the past month, and due to the one week lag in transparency reports, they have likely already passed the $10 million mark. Just think about that: the election is over a year and a half away, and his campaign has already spent $10 million dollars on Facebook and Google since the midterms. See all these charts and how they change over time at our FWIW Digital Dashboard.
Last week, the Gillibrand campaign dramatically outspent all other Democrats on Facebook, running hundreds of small dollar fundraising ads with appeals to “guarantee her spot” on the debate stage. Although she’s already made the first debates based on the polling threshold, her campaign tweeted this week that they’re just 5,000 donors shy of the 65,000 small dollar donor threshold. They also chalked up their momentum to “digital tactical shifts” which we are so very here for 🏻.
In cumulative terms, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden’s campaigns are pulling ahead as the biggest spenders on the left, each spending over $1.5 million on Facebook and Google.
The #Gravelanche has arrived on the FWIW Dashboard, as we’ve started including former U.S. Senator and teen-icon Mike Gravel in our weekly numbers. Turns out social pressure works as his campaign swears they’re in it to win it and this week, he surpassed the cumulative digital spending of other candidates like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (seriously) and Wayne Messam.
Anyway, these were the top spenders on Facebook for the week of May 26 – June 1:
The Need to Impeach campaign took advantage of the Mueller news last week, spending heavily on Google Ads around impeachment. They’ve spent more than everyone else on the issue, pumping over $7.6 million into Facebook + Google advertising since May 2018.
On the right, the shady pro-Trump news site, The Epoch Times, spent $89,571 on Facebook ads questioning Mueller’s integrity, attacking the President’s critics, and pushing the administration’s “no-collusion” talking points.
Deep Dive: A filthy, dirty, disgusting word
In such a crowded primary, it can be difficult for candidates to differentiate themselves from others on issues. However, the issue of Donald Trump’s impeachment has sharply divided the Democratic field.
After Mueller’s surprise press conference, the Democratic candidates for President immediately took over the airwaves and news feeds to seize the moment and make their stance known on the issue.
So far, (and pretty unbelievably) only 13 of the 24 Democratic candidates for president support beginning the impeachment process against Donald Trump. (Shout out to Need to Impeach, who’s tracking that!) Impeachment isn’t just another issue in this campaign – it’s an important litmus test for the Democratic primary rank-and-file voters who are outraged by the President’s behavior and are wildly eager to see him removed from office. A new poll out this week showed 59% of Democrats and over a third of all voters support impeaching the President.
Especially among progressive activists, these calls for impeachment aren’t going away, and seem to be growing louder by the day.
So, which candidates are all-in on the issue?
According the the Facebook Ad Archive, only five(!) of the Democratic candidates for President have run Facebook ads in support of impeachment – the vast majority of which appeared in the last week: Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Seth Moulton.
Elizabeth Warren was first out of the gate on the issue months ago, and some have speculated it was a fundraising boon to her campaign. After Mueller’s press conference, Booker, Warren and O’Rourke’s campaigns started running dozens of ad variations nationwide targeting broad swathes of the Democratic primary electorate.
These Facebook ads are all similar in that they drive viewers to a page to sign a petition. Let’s be real though, these “petitions” aren’t going anywhere – they’re just smart tools for gathering supporter info and email addresses so they can engage them later. Also, after signing the petitions, all of the campaigns redirect to ActBlue pages – a wise strategy to translate supporters’ passion on the impeachment issue into cash for the campaign.
Who’s steering clear of the issue?
Although they’ve made public statements in support of impeachment, some campaigns aren’t making it a centerpiece of their messaging, and just seem eager to talk about something else.
Despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook advertising in recent weeks, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders haven’t spent a dime on ads mentioning impeachment. Joe Biden referred to the issue as a “gigantic distraction” this week, and Bernie Sanders, although supportive of the process, has seemed less than enthusiastic about the idea, cautioning it could backfire.
Making it rain
Impeachment could be a lucrative issue for campaigns hungry for small dollar donors. After Mueller’s presser, some of the campaigns’ email teams sprang into action, urgently using the impeachment issue to raise money.
We saw Hickenlooper, Gillibrand, Moulton, Harris, Booker, and O’Rourke’s campaigns use the Mueller press conference as a good excuse to send just one more cheesy email fundraising appeal. (Did we miss anyone? Let us know!)
Instead of begging for $1 dollar donations with generic asks to make the debate stage, smaller campaigns could use enthusiasm around issues like impeachment to build a base of passionate supporters that they’ll desperately need in the coming months. We’ll be able to see in the next round of FEC Reports (coming July 15th ) whether candidates in support of Congress starting the process have padded their wallets with that pro-impeachment cash-money.
How the 2020 Democratic candidates deal with the issue of impeachment is a good indicator of how their campaigns are or aren’t willing to stake out a bold position, take advantage of a news cycle, and build support.
In 2019, there’s a good argument to be made that there’s no greater force in politics than anti-Trump energy. It’s currently one of the Democratic party’s greatest assets. Some candidates like Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, and Harris understand that and are trying to ride that wave, while others like Biden and Buttigieg are betting that changing the channel is a better bet. We’ll see which strategy comes out on top very soon.
BONUS: Not very polite
Kirsten Gillibrand discovered a new campaign slogan this week, taking the phrase “not very polite” from Chris Wallace, who referred to her criticisms of Fox News as such in a televised town hall. Gillibrand wasn’t the first Democrat to criticize Fox on their program, but she was the first to get told she was being rude. 🏼♀️ In another example of how campaigns can immediately take advantage of an offline moment and proactively push it online to their advantage, her campaign almost instantly started selling merch and running ads with the slogan, and its now you can even find it in her Twitter bio:
Read + share 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, forward this email to three friends. They can sign up for weekly updates at www.anotheracronym.org/fwiw, follow us on Twitter and email us with ideas of what we should dive into next.
– the team at ACRONYM (who BTW, turns 2 years old today! 🥳)
P.S. You can find today’s issue of FWIW here and read this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia at this link.