FWIW: The online impeachment roundup 🤠

10 mins read

Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you. 

For this week’s issue, we could have written about how TikTok banned political ads before Joe and Bernie had a chance to join in on the fun, or we could have spent some time writing about Nickelback memes.  BUT we knew no one would pay attention if we didn’t dig into the online battle over impeachment again, so we rounded up some key insights on how the issue has continued to play out on Facebook, Google, and elsewhere for those of you following the drip of crimes as closely as we are. 

But first…

2020 by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $21.2 million on Facebook and Google advertising alone since the 2018 midterm elections. His campaign spent more online last week than during any other one week period since we started tracking (in October 2018). 

And because we’ve been frantically refreshing the Facebook Ad Library every hour for the past week, 🤓we were able to compile the Trump campaign’s daily spending on Facebook ads since the impeachment inquiry news broke last Tuesday.

FWIW, nearly every major news outlet has reported on the Trump campaign’s  spending on Facebook around impeachment, but we wanted to be the first to provide you with a daily breakdown of their spend on the platform above. For context, his campaign usually spends anywhere from $30,000 – $60,000 per day on Facebook.

Along those lines, many outlets largely overlooked the major increase in the Trump campaign’s weekly Google spending. Here’s how last week compared to previous spending on Google, which includes YouTube.

So what have the Democratic candidates for President been up to? 🤔 Well, mostly scrambling for EOQ dollars. 

Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Steyer spent a little more than usual last week on Facebook and Google, primarily on different variations of fundraising ads to boost their bank accounts ahead of the quarterly FEC reports. Some of them have already reported big fundraising quarters, and we’ll be sure to dig into the actual FEC reports when they’re released around October 15th. 

If you look at the cumulative chart below, you’ll see (as the NYT noted this week) that Joe Biden’s campaign spending online has leveled off a bit – especially compared to the other front-runners. Campaigns dramatically ramp up and pull back their digital spending week over week, so we wouldn’t read into it *that* much, and just yesterday his campaign announced a new major ad buy on TV and digital streaming platforms, which will include YouTube. 

… and here are the top political spenders on Facebook + Google last week:

Outside of the Trump campaign, none of the top 10 spenders on Facebook or Google last week spent heavily around impeachment. More on that below!

Deep Dive: The Online Impeachment Roundup 

Last week we looked at how the Trump campaign quickly mobilized online advertising to use the impeachment issue and raise loads of money. Over the past few days, we’ve been tracking several other ways the battle for impeachment has played out online. Here’s a roundup:

It’s trending

According to Google Trends data, searches for the word ‘impeachment’ in the United States have spiked like never before. There were a few other times early in Trump’s presidency when searches for ‘impeachment’ spiked, but in the graph below, the public at large is clearly paying attention now, or at the very least Googling the issue to see what all the news is about. 

According to Merriam-Webster, lookups for the definition of the word “impeachment” on their site also spiked 3600% last week. 

Who was most prepared?

Despite the Trump campaign planning for an anti-impeachment ad campaign weeks in advance, political organizations on both sides of the aisle who typically spend tens of thousands of dollars each week on Facebook and Google ads have been notably silent on impeachment. With a few exceptions, we’ve yet to see any outside group spend any significant amount of money supporting or opposing impeachment online.

On the left, Need to Impeach, which has spent millions over the past year pushing for this moment, only spent around $5,000 on just 10 Facebook ads in the week following the impeachment inquiry announcement. That said, they have since announced plans for a $3 million campaign targeting Republican senators, mostly on TV.

…and FWIW, Stand Up America has spent around $14,000 on Facebook ads since last week, mostly highlighting impeachment and Trump’s corruption.

…but it’s not just progressive groups – on the right, outside spenders that typically defend the President – like Americans for Prosperity, Judicial Watch, and Freedom Works – were mostly absent from the online fight. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell and the party committees have begun to ramp up their own individual advertising efforts to defend the President.

Maybe most notably, the RNC has started running anti-impeachment ads targeting supporters nationally and in key battleground states like Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, and Minnesota:

Is the Ukraine-Biden conspiracy theory working?

We noted last week that the right would likely try to weaponize the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theories to divert attention away from the President, but despite their best efforts, it may not have taken hold yet. 

Here’s the Google trends data comparing searches for “Biden Ukraine” vs “Trump Ukraine” over the past 30 days:

Donald Trump’s campaign is already heavily advertising against Biden on this issue, dropping an advertising “bomb” in the early nominating states, on top of his multi-million dollar ad campaign he launched last week. CNN has already refused to air the ads due to them containing *complete lies*, and the Biden campaign has asked FOX News to follow suit.

FWIW, the president IS getting help amplifying the Biden story from his allies in the conservative media online. These are just a few screenshots from the main pages of Fox News and Breitbart over the past few days:

We know this playbook – the president tweets or says something false or misleading, the right-wing media amplifies it, the Trump campaign advertises around it, and it eventually becomes a mainstream media narrative that impacts real voter perceptions of an issue. A lot of us are watching to see if that is the case this time, or if we’ve all learned our lesson. 

One more thing…  

That’s all for this week. But before you go, we have one more ask of you! If you enjoy reading FWIW each week, help us grow our following + spread the word! Forward this email to a few friends, or click below to follow @anotheracronym on Twitter! Remember, every time you share FWIW, a new progressive digital ad might just find its wings …

P.S. You can find this and other issues of FWIW here and read this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia at this link.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

ACRONYM is a nonprofit organization committed to building power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement.


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