As 2020 nears, Democratic digital practitioners are sounding the alarm with increased urgency about their side’s strategy and budgeting. A look at recent digital spending data shows why.
In the early part of this cycle, President Trump outspent Democrats significantly on Facebook, and while the collective 2020 Democratic field has now surpassed Trump’s spending on the platform, the difference in focus is a major part of what’s worrying strategists.
Trump has spent nearly $5 million this year advertising on Facebook. The collective Democratic field has now spent $9.6 million, according to the platform’s most up-to-date data.
The problem? Presidentials on the Dem side are focused on appealing to a smaller universe given the need to raise money and appeal to primary voters in Democratic strongholds. Trump is squarely focused on the general election, messaging in battleground states.
The worst part for some Democratic digital strategists: the national party isn’t filling in the gaps.
“It’s not that these [presidential] campaigns shouldn’t do what they’re doing,” said Ben Coffey Clark, a partner at the Democratic digital firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. “It’s really a question of what the party should be doing and what outside groups on our side should be doing.”
BPI unveiled some new features for its digital ad spending tracker this week that offer a better look at how 2020 campaigns are messaging and directing their ad dollars. The early findings revealed by the tracker, which relies on the digital ad spending data published by Google and Facebook, should raise red flags for Democrats, according to BPI Founder Andrew Bleeker.
While digital “is the single biggest expense right now on the Democratic campaigns for the first time ever,” he said, the Democratic presidentials aren’t showing the same coordination at this stage as the Trump campaign.
A major takeaway from President Trump’s digital strategy, Bleeker said, is “unprecedented coordination between the paid media campaign and the earned media campaign.”
For instance, when Trump announced his support for bipartisan prison reform legislation late last year, he used that earned media moment to run paid digital ads with a CTA to supporters.
A look at messaging on the part of the individual campaigns reveals most candidates are really in the weeds on policy with their digital advertising, working to carve out a niche in a packed primary field. Or in other cases, thanks in large part to the DNC’s donor requirement, they’re hyper-focused on getting their candidate onto the debate stage.
The data on search spending in the tracker was also revealing. It showed Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden were the biggest spenders on Google, putting $244,700 and $179,400 into its ad platform between April 27 and May 18. Biden holds a large lead when it comes to search, according to the BPI tracker, which as Bleeker pointed out, correlates extremely highly with fundraising success.
Strategists at BPI aren’t the only digitally-focused group raising concerns about the party’s spending. ACRONYM has a 2020 digital dashboard, whose findings feature in FWIW, its email newsletter.
In its last issue, ACRONYM analysts noted that Democratic candidates and groups were failing to respond effectively to the anti-abortion messages pushed by their counterparts on the right. “Democrats need to be driving their own proactive messages to voters online—especially when the majority of voters are on their side of the issue.”