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.
There has been a lot of talk (by us and others) about how much the 2020 field is raising and spending online. But what about where they’re spending that money? The pundits and media can speculate about which states each candidate would need to win to make it through the primary, or the general election. But do the campaign’s digital investments align with those assumptions? And are candidates spending money in places they’re also spending a lot of time, or are they using ad strategies to build a base of support in places they haven’t been able to get to in person yet? We dig into it in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign digital spending ticked up slightly over the past week, and he’s now spent over $8.5 million on Google and Facebook since the midterms.
Upon announcing his candidacy last week, Joe Biden brought in a massive $6.3 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign – $4.4 million of which was raised online. How did he do it? In part due to his campaign’s huge investments in digital advertising around its launch. Biden’s campaign spent over $750K in just its first few days – nearly spending more money on Facebook and Google last week than the entire Democratic field combined. You can see Joe Biden’s large digital spend in the charts below.
Here are the top Facebook and Google spenders from April 21 – 27:
We noticed The Epoch Times, an international news outlet with a pro-Trump bias was one of the top spenders of the week on Facebook. Last week, it ran hundreds of Facebook ads (some of which are still active) boosting Donald Trump and floating conspiracy theories about Joe Biden…and they even promised a free poster. Here are a few of their ads:
Deep Dive: Mapping the Facebook Primary 🗺️
For this week’s deep dive, we took advantage of the new Facebook spending heatmap on the FWIW Digital Dashboard to see where each 2020 campaign is spending the largest percentage of money on Facebook ads – and there are a few surprises.
A note: logically, if a candidate were to run Facebook ads in a blanket fashion nationwide, the states with the largest populations would receive the largest percentage of each candidate’s paid ad spend – and that remains somewhat true. However, there are interesting and significant differences in where each candidate is spending their money, and looking at which states each campaign is prioritizing can provide insights into how they see their path to the nomination.
The Home Field Advantage:
Nearly every candidate is spending the largest percentage of their digital dollars in their home state. From Hickenlooper spending big in Colorado to Klobuchar in Minnesota, campaigns likely realize that building support in their home state is low hanging fruit for both building a supporter base and acquiring small dollar donors. This was not true for only three of the candidates in the race, all hailing from very small states: Bernie Sanders (VT), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), and Pete Buttigieg (IN).
The Early States:
Historically, the path to the presidency has run through four key early-voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. All four states are relatively low in population, so a candidate spending a significant share of their Facebook ad budget there may reveal their strategic importance.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of candidates disproportionately prioritized spending their digital ad budgets to target Facebook users in Iowa. Andrew Yang, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, and Tim Ryan, who are all desperately trying to break through the crowded field, spent the largest percentages of their Facebook budgets in their attempts to reach Iowa caucusgoers. Of those often considered “top-tier” candidates, Elizabeth Warren (4.3%), Cory Booker (8.8%), and Kamala Harris (5.1%) each spent a significant share there as well.
In New Hampshire, we found Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard were the only two candidates who spent the highest percentage of their budgets (around 12%) attempting to reach Granite State voters. It is important to note, however, that while Mayor Pete and Tulsi invested the highest percentage of their Facebook dollars in ads delivered in New Hampshire, it’s likely they’re spending less in terms of dollar amount in the state than candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris who have much higher Facebook spending overall. With Mayor Pete specifically, it will be interesting to see if he continues to prioritize spending in New Hampshire as he ramps up digital spending given his recent multi-million dollar fundraising haul.
Perhaps most notably, with the exception of Booker (8%) and Harris (6%), none of the 2020 Democratic candidates spent a significant share of their Facebook dollars in South Carolina. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have made clear they consider South Carolina to be a key focus of their offline and online organizing efforts, and their spend thus far reflects that. Analysis of paths to victory from FiveThirtyEight for both Booker and Harris shows both needing to win big among crucial African American voters there, and each campaign recently announced slates of endorsements from black elected officials in the state.
In all of these instances, the campaigns’ state-specific advertising seems to be primarily focused around volunteer recruitment, crowd-building for events and acquisition (building lists of supporter email addresses in each state). It’s clear that these ad investments by 2020 candidates are primarily focused on introducing themselves to voters in specific states, rather than fundraising or driving strategic narratives, like we’ve seen the Trump campaign do in places like Florida and Georgia. But that’s because Trump doesn’t need to spend money introducing himself to voters – they already know who he is.
The Bottom Line:
As the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates begin to ramp up their digital spending, particularly on Facebook, we can start to gain valuable insights into their campaigns’ broader strategies. When it comes to the early states, candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris are leveraging digital advertising to make clear plays for support. We’ll be watching closely to see how those investments shift and whether they pay off over time.
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
P.S. You can find today’s issue of FWIW here and read this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia at this link.