2020 Candidates’ Early Facebook Spending Gives Insight into Their Election Strategies

One month ago, we shared our initial data on President Trump’s massive early investment in digital advertising. But the spend levels are only part of the story. As promised, we are continually adding new features which shine a light on what these campaigns are really thinking.

Today, we are pleased to share another round of data that gets to the heart of the Trump campaign strategy, disproportionately targeting older voters and emphasizing immigration-themed messaging to appeal to their base. And as social media is now the nation’s primary news source, this represents not just campaign advertising, but much of what the country is learning about these issues.

We’ve pulled this data using new tools that Facebook has allowed us to use to access their Politcal Ads Archive. Instead of forcing users to scroll ad by ad to collect information, we’re now analyzing larger sets of ads run by political and issue advertisers. This is a huge step forward for transparency in the digital ecosystem that helps shine light on the ways that Facebook is being used to reach and move voters, even though Facebook’s API is restricted in such a way that only allows us to access the last several weeks of complete data.

We took a quick look at the data we have, and we wanted to share a couple of interesting insights:

Democrats are allowing Donald Trump to set the terms of the immigration conversation.

Our early estimate is that over half of Donald Trump’s spending on Facebook mentions immigration issues (54% of spend). He’s not just governing on immigration, he’s campaigning on it — nationwide. But Democrats aren’t responding in kind — every candidate mentions it in fewer than 10% of their ads. It’s not surprising that immigration is a less effective fundraising topic for Democrats, but Trump continues own the lane on paid communication on this critical issue.

Trump’s putting a huge emphasis on Facebook users that are over 65 — while Democrats invest in reaching younger voters

The Trump campaign is spending nearly half (44%) of its Facebook ad budget targeting seniors — even though they only made up 24% of the 2016 electorate. Democrats (led by Bernie and Beto) are doubling down on young people, spending about 18% of their total ad budget on voters under 35, while Trump is devoting a mere 4% of his resources to reaching the same group. In the wake of huge 2018 Democratic gains driven in large part by young voters, older voters will be even more critical to Trump’s reelection strategy, while Democrats are currently racing to engage millennials.

On Facebook, Democratic candidates are going national to raise money, and aren’t yet focusing their communications on the early states

Every Democratic candidate is spending at least 75% of their Facebook resources outside of the first 4 primary states — reflecting the need to raise money nationally and, to a lesser extent, highlighting the decreasing importance of these early states. But two candidates are going against the grain to shore up their core strategy — Cory Booker is spending 15% of his Facebook dollars in those early states (compared to 3–7% for the rest of the field), and Kamala Harris is spending more than 22% in her home state of California (compared to 6–15%). For both candidates, those states are critical to their path to the nomination.

Democrats are taking different approaches: some focus on Trump while others making their case on issues

Most Democrats are barely spending on ads that mention Trump. Even though they are all trying to raise money, few are using the President’s name to do so. But Bernie, more so than any other candidate, is working hard to size himself up against Trump, as if he were already running in a general election. Nearly one in five dollars that he spends goes to ads that mention Trump (est. 21.7% of spend) — usually around the idea that Bernie is uniquely electable. Not to be outdone, 42% of Trump’s ad spend includes copy with his own name.

This early in the primary, the debate rules are changing the way that many Democrats message — often they’re not asking for your support, just to hear them out on stage.

For example, 90% of Julián Castro’s spend mentions the debates. It makes up a decent share of spending from other candidates — nearly one-third (32.8%) of Cory Booker’s spending is on ads that mention the debate. Candidates like Jay Inslee are using ads to make the argument that specific issues like climate change need a voice at the debate.

And last but not least, we’re seeing candidates put dollars behind their organizing efforts

Beto O’Rourke is spending 15% of his money on ads about events; Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand are close behind at 8% and 6% respectively. Watch this space as candidates start to use digital ads as an organizing tool to get their supporters to events or even to take higher bar actions like making calls.

Up next….

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