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What a Year of Campaign Digital Data Tells Us

One year down in the 2020 race, we saw 28 candidates enter (2 in the last month alone), 13 leave, and over $100M in spend on Facebook and Google alone. Now, two months away from the first primary, campaigns are shifting from pure fundraising/list building efforts to the strategies, audiences, and messages they think will persuade a broader audience to make them the nominee.

Beyond the candidate field, the digital landscape continues to change with new policies and restrictions around political ads and targeting. This will change the platforms and tactics campaigns use to reach voters, and we’ll continue to update the 2020 Campaign Tracker each week and share regular insights on how campaigns adapt.

Trump Started Early — Democrats Caught Up and Then Some

For the first few months of 2019 Trump was outspending the entire Democratic field combined, but in late March that was reversed and now the Democratic field is outspending Trump 3:1, though he continues to outspend each candidate individually except Steyer and Bloomberg.

Where Candidates Think They Can WinIn just over six weeks, the Iowa caucus goers will give us the first victories of 2020. After months, if not a year, of fundraising and list-building across the country, campaigns are beginning to invest online in the early states they think could hand them coveted first, second or even third place finishes:

A few insights:

  • Andrew Yang is investing the highest percentage of his Facebook budget (33%) in Iowa, but Elizabeth Warren continues to spend the most in the first primary state week over week, followed now by Cory Booker.
  • Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang recently spiked the amount they’re both spending in New Hampshire.
  • Mike Bloomberg, as his campaign announced, is not campaigning in early states. He has spent 65% of his Facebook budget on Super Tuesday states to date.
  • Tom Steyer continues to invest heavily in Nevada and S. Carolina with Cory Booker recently tripling what he’s spending in S. Carolina.

The Biggest Launch of Them All

The first few weeks of each campaign have typically seen the highest investment in digital spend on both Facebook and Google. And no one capitalized on their launch more than Mike Bloomberg who has invested $9.4M in digital ads since announcing his candidacy on Nov. 24th.

Pivoting from a Fundraising Audience to Persuasion One

Campaigns began the year heavily investing in audiences who were most likely to give to their campaign. Now that candidates have raised significant amounts of money, they’re starting to spend that money on core persuadable voters. One of the more drastic changes we saw in audience targeting was by Pete Buttigieg’s campaign:

Each Candidate’s Most Searched Day

Through Google’s API we’re able to track search interest every day in the 2020 Democratic Primary field. Below are the days each candidate commanded the most search interest they saw all year and the percentage of interest they captured, beginning with the most surprising:

On Oct. 24th and 25th Sen. Michael Bennet saw his biggest bump, capturing 12% of the field’s search interest — except we think people were actually searching for Michael Bennett, the NFL Defensive End, who was traded from the New England Patriots to the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 24th.

Do You Mention Him by Name?

Tom Steyer has spent $4.5M on Facebook on ads that mention Trump by name, that’s just over 40% of his Facebook spend. Mike Bloomberg has already spent more than most candidates spent all year attacking Trump directly and week over week has spent the most on ads with Trump’s name since entering the race. Meanwhile Andrew Yang and Pete Buttigieg hardly mention him, they spent 1% and 0.04% respectively on ads with his name.*
(spend is from Mar 23rd — Dec 14th)

The decision over attacking Trump by name or not is one only campaigns can definitively answer, but in Yang and Buttigieg’s cases, they’ve defined themselves as outsiders to the whole system. Biden and Trump have attacked each other directly from the start and Steyer, another outsider, has made impeaching Trump a central campaign theme.

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