FWIW: The state of the early states

8 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

Facebook recently improved the way they provide state-by-state political advertising transparency data, and our team was all over it. 🤓 That means we can now get much more accurate insights on how much each presidential candidate has spent in the first four Democratic caucus and primary states. Who’s not spending in Iowa, but should be? Who’s flooding New Hampshire voters with Facebook ads? Find out below. 

But first…

New #FWIWPod Alert 🚨

Episode 2 of the FWIW podcast dropped yesterday, and you won’t want to miss it. ACRONYM’s founder Tara McGowan sat down with Nell Thomas, CTO of the Democratic National Committee, to chat about the Democrats’ data ecosystem and how the Democratic Party is changing the way they use + collect data to empower state parties. Give it a listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or at fwiwpodcast.com.  

2020 by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $26.1 million on Facebook and Google advertising alone since the 2018 midterm elections. Most of his ads last week were fundraising ads featuring Bernie Sanders and AOC, harping on socialism. What else is new?

…Well, a lot, apparently. On Wednesday, Twitter announced that they’re banning political advertising on their platform, and for what it’s worth, we think they may be a little disingenuous. Political advertising on Twitter has never occurred at the same scale as other platforms like Facebook and Google, and we think they have a far bigger problem to solve when it comes to the organic spread of hate speech and misinformation on their platform, including from the President.

View these charts and more at our FWIW Digital Dashboard.

On the Democratic side, Tulsi Gabbard spent more than Joe Biden’s campaign online last week, and it appears that Beto O’Rourke’s campaign spending on Google and Facebook has pretty much wound down. Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders seem to be the only leading contenders investing heavily online. 

Here’s a cumulative look at the top six spending candidates on Facebook and Google: 

…and here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google from October 20 – 26th. 

Worth noting is that far-right digital media outlet PragerU spent nearly $100,000 on Facebook ads last week, pushing ads railing against “The Left” and public pensions: 

Deep Dive: The state of the early states

We noticed Facebook quietly released some more major improvements to their political ad transparency library this week – most importantly the ability to see and download lists of political ad spenders for each state. 🤯We’ve previously been able to only estimate these numbers, so this is a huge development, especially for those of us watching the Democrats compete in the four early primary states. So with that said, here’s the state of early state spending on Facebook from 9/27-10/26…and there’s certainly some surprises .


It should come as no surprise that Tom Steyer is the top spender in all four early states, including Iowa. His campaign is lighting money on fire at a rapid pace to slowly inch up his name ID and position in the polls. 

This morning a new poll from the New York Times showed Iowa to be essentially a three-way race between Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg, and that can also be seen in their digital investment – especially on Facebook in the past 30 days. Mayor Pete’s campaign has been surging in the state, and they have spent more than three times as much on Facebook ads in Iowa than Sanders or Warren. His team is not just using Facebook ads to beg for campaign cash, but instead using Facebook as an organizing platform to identify and recruit prospective caucus goers.  Their path to the nomination really depends on Iowa, and it seems like things could be falling into place there. 🤷🏼‍♂️

Trailing Tulsi Gabbard and Steve Bullock in Iowa spending, Joe Biden’s Facebook advertising program to Iowa voters looks to be minimal. In the past week, his campaign spent just $866 on Facebook ads reaching Iowans. Despite “f*cking moving to Iowa,” Kamala’s campaign just can’t afford to spend at the same rate as some of the others, although Michael Bennet (who is apparently still a thing) was able to find the cash to spend.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, it’s worth noting that despite trailing in the polls, Pete leads the other frontrunners again. He has the cash to spend, and it seems like he’s spending it online, and in the early states. Elizabeth Warren, currently leading in New Hampshire polls, is heavily outspending Bernie Sanders there. 

New Hampshire is a tiny state, and outside the core group of frontrunners + Steyer, few candidates are spending significantly on Facebook there.

South Carolina

Steyer, currently in a distant fifth place in South Carolina polls, has spent over a half million dollars in the state in the past month. Warren leads the rest of the pack, and Kamala is closely behind. Despite being Joe Biden’s campaign firewall, his team remains underinvested online in South Carolina, which seems like a risky bet, but no one asked us. 🙄 Maybe that predictable last minute TV strategy will save him?


In terms of the presidential primary calendar, February 22nd seems like an eternity away. That’s when Democrats will caucus in Nevada, and other than Steyer, there’s no real targeted Facebook investment there yet. According to Real Clear Politics, Biden is currently leading in the polls there, but that could quickly change once the other frontrunners begin hitting the airwaves and filling voters’ newsfeeds. 

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, you’ll love the new #FWIWPod. Help us grow our following + spread the word! Forward this email to a few friends, and click below to listen to Episode 2 of the new FWIW podcast! 🎙

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

Originally posted on Another Acronym. Re-posted with permission.

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Story

The Field Of Democratic Candidates Is Awesome (Start Me Up Podcast)

Forward Kentucky
Next Story

The Forward Five – Friday, 11/1/2019

Latest from Explainer

How Fascism Works

How Fascism Works Fascist politics is spreading in America. Can you spot it?

%d bloggers like this: