Welcome to the Senate FYI! Each week, we’ll track how the battle to flip the Senate is playing out where voters get their information—online. We’ll monitor spending on digital advertising, as well as watch how the campaigns are engaging supporters and voters online.
In this newsletter, we’ve covered countless digital ads and organic social posts from this cycle’s Senate candidates. However, part of the novelty of social media – and advertising on social media – is that all content there, ads included, are reciprocal. Possible voters watch, interact, share and talk to candidates constantly by commenting on the candidates’ content, and we’d be remiss to turn a blind eye to that kind of engagement.
With that in mind, in this week’s Senate FYI we take a look at organic engagement data and what the comments sections for a few candidates’ most-engaged Facebook posts tend to look like.
Joni Ernst is in hot water this week after she cast doubt on the staggering coronavirus death toll. This comes at a time when Iowa is emerging as the most infected state in the country.
Speaking of misinformation: Facebook apparently took down a post from Roger Marshall, a practicing OBGYN, in which he misrepresented recent CDC comorbidity data.
According to paperwork filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, a director of the Senate Leadership Fund, the McConnell-aligned Super PAC, is Robert M. Duncan…who is also the Chairman of the USPS Board of Governors.
Last week, Mark Kelly was the biggest spender on Facebook + Google ads, but coming in behind him is Cal Cunningham, whose campaign is really turning up their digital investments. In the beginning of August, the Cunningham campaign spent about $62k on digital ads – last week, they spent nearly $200k.
While the Senate Leadership Fund is significantly growing their investment in digital ads – they spent $312k on FB + Google ads last week – they are also set to run 7- and 8-figure TV ad buys in AZ, GA, IA, ME, and NC.
In South Carolina, Jaime Harrison has been outspending Lindsey Graham on digital ads since May, but it looks like the senator’s campaign is starting to grow their spending: they’ve more than doubled their investment from late July ($94k) to last week ($276k). But FYI, Harrison spent $373k on FB + Google ads last week.
“Don’t read the comments” is intended to keep content creators from getting sucked into extremely toxic comment sections on their content. However, in 2020, maybe it’s important for political practitioners to keep in mind that these commenters are (mostly) real people who could end up voting.
Organic engagement on a candidates’ most engaged posts can provide some qualitative insights into how potential voters react to certain content pieces, arguments, and aspects of a candidate’s brand – and we can also compare that to quantitative data available from CrowdTangle.
For starters, here’s a look at the most-engaged pages from the last 30 days, and the number of likes those pages have:
Let’s start with Martha McSally, who apparently has an iron grip on maybe 39 percent of Arizona voters. Some of these voters are active on McSally’s Facebook page, as indicated by this post from last week. The venn diagram of McSally supporters and Trump supporters is a circle, so it makes sense that engagement on this post is mostly positive, for example.
In fact, McSally’s and Mark Kelly’s pages actually got the most interactions among Senate candidates in key races at over 100k each, but McSally’s interaction rate is about twice as high as Kelly’s – 1.6% for McSally’s content vs. 0.86% for Kelly’s.
Just one state over, Cory Gardner isn’t running a Trump-or-bust campaign and is trying to hobble together a coalition of moderate Coloradans and Republicans to eke out a win over Hickenlooper. Writing and passing the Great American Outdoors Act appears to be part of that attempt, but some voters appear to be picking up on his ploy.
And clearly, conservation and climate change are critical to Colorado voters, because a good few of John Hickenlooper’s most engaged posts are the ones that address these. Specifically, the Hickenlooper campaign appears to be trying to tap into the sentiment that Gardner is only taking action because it’s an election year. However, this tactic may be causing at least some backlash.
Moreover, Hickenlooper’s page got far more interactions than Gardner’s in the past 30 days – about 91k for Hickenlooper and 34k for Gardner. However, while Hickenlooper posts about four times a day compared to Gardner’s about once a day, Gardner has a higher interaction rate (2.8%) compared to Hickenlooper’s content (1.2%).
In Iowa, Theresa Greenfield has been going on offense against Joni Ernst. Greenfield has been hammering the senator for her approval of Trump’s latest EPA administrator, and true to her brand, has also been critical of Ernst’s lackluster advocacy for Social Security – as we can see here.
It appears to be resonating, because some of Greenfield’s most engaged posts talk about the threat Ernst poses to the service and the comments on those posts tend to lean towards being more anti-Ernst than pro-Greenfield.
On the other side of Iowa’s Senate race, Ernst has been leaning more and more into the anti-Dem red meat rhetoric. And it’s easy to see why – her supporters react strongly to it, as indicated by the fact that her most engaged posts are the ones that criticize Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Dingell, of all people. That said, the post referencing Dingell touches on Iowans’ cherished caucuses, so that may also contribute to the increased engagement there.
Quantitatively speaking, though, Ernst’s content gets more total engagement than Greenfield’s – one of the few GOP candidates to do so. And while Greenfield posts twice as much on Facebook than Ernst (a whopping 4.7 times a day compared to Ernst’s 2.7 times a day), her content gets more interactions per post. Greenfield’s content in the past 30 days has an interaction rate of 2.6% while Ernst’s has a rate of 1.7%.
And that’s it for this week! See any interesting posts about the pandemic from Senate candidates that we missed? See ads or digital strategies that we should note? Send us an email! You can also check out our previous issues on our website, and be sure to check out our online dashboard for a detailed breakdown of candidates’ digital spending.