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.
Just like for the top of the ticket, debate season for Senate candidates is fully underway. By now, you’ve probably seen clips of Jaime Harrison wiping the floor with Lindsey Graham from behind a plexiglass shield, or of Martha McSally straight-up refusing to say if she’s proud of her party’s incumbent president. In this week’s Senate FYI, we look at how some of these dramatic moments have played out online.
Looking at candidates’ digital ad spending data from the past three weeks, it certainly looks like most Democrats did in fact turn their budgets up to 11 in the days following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sudden passing.
However, while some brought their spending back down last week – like John Hickenlooper, whose digital spending halved last week from the previous week – other Dems #CantStopWontStop – like Theresa Greenfield, whose spending grew about 30% from the previous week to last week.
Democratic candidates are continuing to outspend their Republican opponents when it comes to targeting their states with Facebook ads, but there has been an interesting development in Big Sky Country. Bullock’s campaign started running anti-Daines FB ads through three new pages last week – “Daines Out for Himself”, “Montana Speaks Out”, and “Wildest Montana” – and all of these target MT. Here’s a quick taste:
As plenty of folks have rightly pointed out, live political debates don’t have nearly as much effect as what voters see and hear about the debate after the fact. The first presidential debate this year provided a great example of this idea – the story that the media took away was that Trump was a blathering, bullying fool, and what do you know? Almost half of voters in PA + FL now view Trump less favorably because of the debate.
The same is certainly true for Senate debates, which is why it’s common for campaigns to move very quickly with their spin the second their respective debates end. Let’s take a look at how some of these spins have played out so far in races that have already had a debate or two.
While very few candidates of either party seem to have run digital ads about the debates that have taken place so far – aside from the traditional “I just stepped off the debate stage” fundraising asks – you can bet that every single one of them has posted clips of their debates on Facebook. So, thanks to CrowdTangle, we can gain some insight into how these performed relative to other posts.
Let’s start by looking at SC-Sen, where Jaime Harrison pretty thoroughly wiped the floor with Lindsey Graham last weekend – and the Harrison team knows it. Their clip of the Democrat arguing that “The first step to working with the other side is not to call the other side ‘nuts,’” performed 9.4x better than their average video post as estimated by CrowdTangle, while Graham’s clip of his closing statement didn’t do nearly as well. Graham’s clip did get more total views, but that’s likely because Graham’s page has five times as many Likes.
We see a similar trend in other debates where Democrats mopped the floor (which is most of them, unsurprisingly), like in IA-Sen, where Greenfield deftly connected Ernst’s vote to confirm a coal lobbyist to the EPA to Iowa’s suffering corn farmers. This clip apparently did so well that the Greenfield campaign even tested it in their Facebook ads among older Iowans, one of the only Senate campaigns to have put money behind a debate clip so far.
Like in South Carolina, though, Ernst’s closing statement got more total views but Greenfield’s zinger from the same debate performed almost twice as well. Incumbency helps here – but so does a better digital team!
Finally, let’s take a look at a debate from late last month that didn’t get as much buzz on Twitter dot com: the second in Montana’s Battle of the Steves. Both of these candidates have relatively small organic followings on Facebook: Bullock’s campaign page has just under 7.5k Likes, and Daines’ has 18.6k Likes, but note that ratio is closer than other challenger/incumbent followings.
Remarkably though, unlike with the debates mentioned above, Bullock’s closing statement clip not only performed better in terms of engagement, but it also got more than twice as many views despite having less than half the organic audience. Well done!
And that’s it for this week! See any interesting posts or digital ads 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.