Trump Bets on Online Spending;
Warren, Biden, Harris Top Democratic Spenders;
Men Seeing More Online Presidential Ads
(MIDDLETOWN, CT) June 6, 2019 – In this early part of the 2020 election season, Donald Trump has spent vastly more on digital ads than his Democratic rivals, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Since May of 2018, Trump’s campaign committee and his joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee have spent over $18 million on digital advertising on two of the largest digital platforms, Facebook and Google—almost ten times as much as his nearest Democratic competitor, Elizabeth Warren (Table 1).
“President Trump has spent more than all of the other candidates in the race combined. And he has vastly outspent Democrats on both platforms, Google and Facebook,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.
In one sense, the digital ad spending of some of the Democratic contestants is understated because many spent heavily on Senate runs in 2018, and their presidential spending did not begin until launching their presidential campaigns. This is true for Warren, Harris, Sanders, O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Gillibrand. Trump, in contrast, has spent money on digital ads touting his presidency and setting up his re-election campaign throughout 2018 and 2019.
One of the largest digital spenders in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, who spent $10 million on Facebook and Google in his run for the U.S. Senate, has spent very little by comparison on his presidential run—just a little over $1 million since launching his campaign in March.
Table 1: Facebook and Google Ad Spending by Campaign
|Candidate||Facebook Spending||Google Spending||Total|
|Bill de Blasio||$42,258||$9,200||$51,458|
|Source: Facebook Ad Library Report (https://www.facebook.com/ads/library/report/) and
Google Transparency Report (https://transparencyreport.google.com/)
Note: Facebook figures cover the May 2018 to June 2, 2019, time period. Facebook totals include spending associated with the
candidate’s page that was sponsored by a presidential campaign entity (e.g., official campaign committee, exploratory
committee or affiliated leadership PAC). Spending on another campaign (such as a U.S. Senate campaign in 2018) is not
included in the totals.
Google figures cover the May 31, 2018, to June 2, 2019, time period. Google totals include spending by official campaign
committees, exploratory committees and affiliated leadership PACs. Spending by candidates on another campaign
(such as a U.S. Senate campaign in 2018) is not included in the totals. Trump’s totals include spending by his campaign
and a joint fund-raising effort with the Republican National Committee.
Gender disparity in who is seeing campaign ads suggests campaigns may primarily be targeting men
By and large, men are seeing more ads in their Facebook newsfeeds from presidential candidates than women are (see Table 2), according to estimates from Pathmatics, a market intelligence firm. The company tracks paid advertising in desktop, tablet and mobile Facebook newsfeeds of their opt-in panel, which consists of hundreds of thousands of users who reflect the diversity of active Facebook users, and the gender information is derived from the types of ads delivered to each individual. At the top of the list is John Delaney, for whom 77 percent of ads were seen by men. Men were also at least 70 percent of the audience for ads sponsored by Tim Ryan, Howard Schultz, Michael Bennet and Donald Trump. Kirsten Gillibrand was the only candidate whose ads were seen more by women than men (51 to 49 percent).
“Targeting information is not available from Facebook, but we can gain insight on targeting by examining information on impressions, or who is seeing the ads. The lopsided viewership of online ads by men may reflect that candidates, at this early stage in the campaign, are running a lot of ads aimed at fundraising as men typically make more political donations than women,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.
For example, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2018 men accounted for 62 percent of federal donations (to candidates, parties, or PACs) over $200 and 70 percent of total dollars (of donations exceeding $200).
Table 2: Percentage of Campaign Ads Seen by Men
|Bill de Blasio||NA|
|Data come from Pathmatics and cover spending on
Facebook from January 1, 2019 to June 3, 2019.
Data on the Bullock, de Blasio and Williamson
campaigns are not yet available.
About This Report
Data on spending on Google Ad Services come from the Google Transparency Report: https://transparencyreport.google.com/. Data on spending on Facebook come from Facebook ad library: https://www.facebook.com/ads/library/report/.
Estimates on impressions of ads by gender come from Pathmatics.
The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) provides real-time tracking and analysis of political advertising in an effort to increase transparency in elections. Housed in Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center – part of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life – the Wesleyan Media Project is the successor to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which disbanded in 2009. It is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government at Wesleyan University, Michael M. Franz, professor of government at Bowdoin College and Travis N. Ridout, professor of political science at Washington State University. WMP staff include Laura Baum (Project Manager) and Dolly Haddad (Project Coordinator).
The Wesleyan Media Project is supported by Wesleyan University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Periodic releases of data will be posted on the project’s website and dispersed via Twitter @wesmediaproject. To be added to our email update list, click here.
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About Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., is known for the excellence of its academic and co-curricular programs. With more than 2,900 undergraduates and 200 graduate students, Wesleyan is dedicated to providing a liberal arts education characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism. For more, visit wesleyan.edu.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.