The 2020 Landscape — Trump’s Digital Head Start

In the first two months of 2019, President Trump outspent Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, the top-spending Democratic candidates, 9:1. And if you add all the Democratic candidates together, President Trump is outspending the field nearly 2:1. How do we know? Bully Pulpit Interactive has rebuilt our proprietary competitive digital dashboard and are currently tracking candidates’ Facebook and Google spend. But we’re far from stopping there.

In the coming weeks we’re adding the spend of outside groups including the parties themselves and independent expenditures. We’ll be integrating where this money is being spent so we can track which early states campaigns are focusing their money on — even if their candidate isn’t spending a noticeable amount of time there. We’re also incorporating a candidate’s search and earned media interest as another barometer of their ongoing impact. If there’s a particular piece of data you’d like tracked, send us note and we’ll work with you!

As we integrate more data streams, we’ll regularly release insights and takeaways from the trends we find. To start, here are our key takeaways from our initial look at 2020 campaign digital spending:

Unsurprisingly, Trump Ads Dominate on Digital

Does this frighten you? It should. According to our data since December 30th, 2018, for every dollar Democrats have spent on digital, Trump has spent $1.90. That’s 2x the Democrats’ ad spend on Facebook and Google. And we aren’t talking about small numbers here either — Trump has spent a total of $5.5M in 3 months.

It’s another Facebook election

About two thirds of all candidate spend on digital so far is on Facebook, as opposed to Google. This trend is a continuation of what we saw last year; however, we are seeing new and interesting creative executions on the Google side, like video ads for acquisition from Trump and Sanders.

Campaign Spend Generally Stays at the Nationwide Level

This is to be expected of candidates at this stage. The campaigns are focused on online fundraising and list-building. For example, Senator Warren is spending money most heavily in California, New York and DC while spending most of her time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Interestingly, President Trump is doing the same, but adding in small targeted buys in states like Florida.

Transparency is Not Standard Across Platforms

Platforms have made huge strides in ad transparency over the last year. Every major platform has built some way to disclose political ad spend. That said, the functionality of each varies greatly.

  • Google offers us the most transparent and explorable data. But they suffer from occasional data lag and is sometimes as much as two weeks behind.
  • Facebook has the greatest breadth of information, as they classify any ads of national importance, not just political. But, the data is harder to explore. We are on the lookout for an API coming in March.
  • Twitter lags far behind the other two both in terms of breadth and depth. There is also an accessibility issue, as users have to search for a specific advertiser (as opposed to seeing the full political field at once), and there’s no ability to explore spend over time.

Sign up for our email list or send us a note to learn about new features as soon as they’re added to the tracker in the coming weeks.