Zero Parts Per Million: Political Facebook ads and Climate Change in #GE2019
Tonight sees the first ever leaders climate change debate on Channel 4. It’s an unprecedented elevation in the status of the environment as a political issue in British elections and comes on the heels of some of the largest climate change protests the country has ever seen.
Given this new prominence, both as a campaign moment and in the wider public interest, you may have thought that the election campaign would have seen large quantities of political advertising on the subject.
So far, this has not been the case.
The parties and the environment
We looked at how many times four keywords — “planet”, “environment”, “climate” and “green” — appear in live adverts by the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party, Conservative Party, Brexit Party, Green Party and Scottish National Party ahead of the debate.
The answer = not often.
Labour has invested the most in environmentally-themed adverts on Facebook, buying two campaigns, one telling voters that ‘Labour will kickstart a Green Revolution’, the other condemning Boris Johnson’s hastily announced ban on fracking. They’ve run many variations of their ‘Green Revolution’ ads, spending around £5,000, with the majority of the audience being voters under 45. These have been seen by slightly more women than men. The fracking attack ads were fewer in number, but similar in spend (just over £4,000), reach and targeting.
Momentum, closely linked with Labour, also targeted 18–34 year olds with a Facebook ad condemning Johnson’s ‘temporary pause on fracking’ as a ‘cynical election stunt’. They spent less than £300 on the ad, which got up to 25,000 impressions.
The Liberal Democrats have mentioned their policy of the UK moving to 80% renewable energy by 2030 in 5 ads, but this in the context of them running over 6,000 Brexit focused ads in the last month. None of the 5 ads have run since November 6th, when the campaign proper started.
The Green Party obviously buck this trend, despite only starting their ad campaigns a little over a week ago, and are currently running over 290 environment-themed Facebook ads. So far, they have spent just over £7,500, pointing to the urgency of the climate crisis and arguing we have ‘10 years to save the planet’.
Despite each spending over £150,000 on Facebook advertising in the campaign so far, the Conservatives and The Brexit Party have not yet dedicated any adverts to their green policies. The SNP, which has run few Facebook ads to date, also did not mention climate topics in their campaign advertising.
After the floods
Labour Party used adverts about the South Yorkshire floods to attack Johnson at a national and local level. A Labour advert titled ‘You Took Your Time Boris’ which linked to a Yorkshire Post article headline got 90–100k impressions and cost £350.
A video distributed via Jeremy Corbyn’s Facebook page showed him visiting South Yorkshire and was accompanied by the subject line ‘If this was happening in Surrey, it would be a national emergency’.
At a more local level, candidates have also sought to make political capital of the flooding. Jon Trickett, MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire, ran an advert condemning Boris and saying ‘shame I wasn’t asked once about the Yorkshire floods’. Labour candidate for North East Somerset, Mark Huband, said in a video ‘we are the party that will take flood defences more seriously than any other party’. Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, said the Conservatives had ‘broken their promise’ on flood defence.
While each of these ads ran at a very small scale, they’re interesting examples of how politicians can reach their electorate and spin a national issue into a locally relevant one, cheaply, quickly and without the need to go through the traditional media.
Local Candidates Push the Environment
In individual constituencies and in the campaigns of some candidates, the environment does have some traction as an issue in political ads. Fifteen Labour candidates, including Emily Thornberry, mention the Green New Deal in their ads, while six mention Labour’s plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’.
Liberal Democrats candidates ads mention the environment more often than the main national party page, with fourteen advertising on the subjects such as green energy and fracking.
The Conservatives have five candidates promoting environmental policies, most notably with Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, promoting ‘a huge reduction in plastic bag use’ and a ‘commitment to go carbon neutral by 2050’.
We found no Brexit Party candidates who mention the environment in their ads.
Tonight’s debate may be a breakthrough moment for the climate as a political issue in British politics, but it’s clear from the way they’re focusing their campaigns elsewhere, that the parties and candidates don’t yet see it as a vote winner.