FWIW: Impeach(ed)

9 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.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which sounds somewhat appealing these days), you know that Donald Trump was impeached this week, becoming only the third president in history to face that indictment. He’s also the first President to be impeached since the mass adoption of social media (and the internet at large) – and both pro- and anti-impeachment forces have been organizing online to spin the event to their advantage. For the last issue of FWIW this year, we take one final look at how impeachment is playing and has played online.

But first…

New Pod Alert 🎙

There’s a new episode of the FWIW Podcast out this week! ACRONYM’s Founder + CEO Tara McGowan sat down with Courier Newsroom’s Lindsay Schrupp and Pat Kreitlow to make the case for investing and driving innovation in progressive local news. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever podcasts can be found. 

2020, by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has now spent over $31.6 million on Facebook and Google advertising since the 2018 midterm elections. His campaign increased spending a bit last week as the impeachment vote neared. 

When it comes to digital investment, his highest spending week of 2019 was in late September when the impeachment inquiry was first announced. Although we began the year sounding the alarm on the Trump campaign’s historic digital investment, his spending has quickly become dwarfed by the combined anti-Trump spend of Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and groups on the left like American Bridge, Priorities USA, and ACRONYM.  

In fact, Michael Bloomberg’s fledgling campaign has now spent more on Google and Youtube in the past month than the Trump campaign has spent all year. Here’s the total spends of the top spending candidates: 

Last week, Bloomberg was again the top spender on Facebook and Google, but it is notable that Bernie Sanders ramped up his spending on both platforms, dropping over half a million dollars across a seven-day period. 

We noticed he’s been running these Nevada-specific video ads on Facebook, and in the past month has outspent all of the other leading candidates in that state by a yugggge margin (nearly 5X!). 

Here’s how much each candidate spent online last week:

Last Friday, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign launched a new wave of 100+ Snapchat ads exclusively targeting young African-American voters attending HBCUs across Southern states like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. The content of those ads mention her plans to repeal the 1994 Crime Bill, ban private prisons, combat white nationalism, and pass gun safety legislation – issues that her team believes young people of color may care about. Her team is also targeting that same audience with similar ads on Facebook + Insta. 

And here are the top 10 political ad spenders on Facebook + Google last week:

Deep Dive: Impeach(ed)

The House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump on Wednesday night for only the third time in American history. The Trump impeachment, however, is the first to have played out online – on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Here’s our biggest takes from the impeachment battle over the past two months:

A lot of money has been spent online… but not that much

We can safely estimate that the top 25 pro and anti-impeachment spenders on Facebook have collectively spent over $5.3 million since news of the initial inquiry broke in September. While that’s a lot of cash for any one issue in a short period of time on Facebook, Mike Bloomberg has already spent that much on the platform in the past three weeks. 🤐

Conservative groups have tried to go on offense, but maybe are reluctant to remind half of Americans that their president is a criminal. On the Left, organizations and campaigns have struggled to find a strong offensive frame on this issue, since many in their base realize the odds of removal by the Senate are slim.  

Trump was ready to make some money

The President’s campaign has spent a large share of those Facebook dollars – at least $1.5 million – on fundraising ads mentioning impeachment. His team has wisely made sure to own communication to their base and keep them in line while they played defense against the impeachment inquiry. Throughout each step of the process, his campaign has tweaked their fundraising ad language based on the news cycle. FWIW, he’s yet to unleash an onslaught of post-impeachment ads. 

GOP pressure campaigns didn’t work

Despite groups like American Action Network and America First Policies funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads targeting vulnerable Democratic Members of Congress, only one actual Democrat switched sides to vote against impeachment…C’mon, Jeff Van Drew doesn’t count

Crickets on the Senate side

Is this thing on? In terms of digital advertising, vulnerable Senators and swing-state Senate campaigns have largely been spared the impeachment noise. There have been a few notable exceptions, though… The Maine Democratic Party has run impeachment ads against Susan Collins, groups in Arizona have targeted Sens. McSally and Sinema, and some of Indivisible’s digital ads have targeted swing state Senators.

As a Senate trial approaches in the New Year, we will be closely watching to see how it plays out online. Will Republicans lean in and turn the trial into a full-on circus? Or will they quickly exonerate the President and go back to their routine of blocking any meaningful legislation from passage…

Presidential contenders want to change the channel

Even during last night’s debate, the Democratic presidential candidates seemed eager to talk about issues other than impeachment. While Steyer and Warren’s campaigns have consistently run ads on Facebook and elsewhere to rally their base for impeachment, the Buttigieg campaign has largely continued to stay away. One recent Buttigieg ad on Facebook captures the general feeling of many of these presidential campaigns well: a direct acknowledgement of the need to impeach, and a quick pivot to other issues voters will care about next November:

One more thing… 🤳🏻

That’s all for FWIW this year! We’ll be back in January – but before you go, we have one more ask of you! Help us get to 10,000 subscribers by December 31st! Forward this email to a friend, and follow us on Twitter!


Originally posted on Acronym. Re-posted with permission.


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

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