FWIW: The $34.5 million dollar elephant in the room

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. 

Despite many in the press and the Twitterverse seemingly counting him out, Bernie Sanders survived a heart attack, won AOC’s endorsement, and raised a whopping $34.5 million all in the final quarter of last year – more than any other candidate running in the Democratic primary. In one of our first candidate-specific deep dives, we take a closer look at Bernie’s digital campaign – and what makes it different from the rest. 

But first…

2020, by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has now spent over $33.8 million on Facebook and Google since the 2018 midterm elections. His campaign remains the top presidential spender on Facebook advertising, while Mike Bloomberg’s campaign has spent more on Google’s ad platform. This week, the Trump campaign announced they raised $46 million in the final quarter of 2019 – more than any of his Democratic opponents, although much less than the combined haul of the leading Dems. 🧨

His latest ads spread his usual hate-filled lies… this time accusing Democrats of being “anti-American.” Suspicious timing when you consider he launched a military attack on Iran just last night. 😱

BTW, here’s the Trump campaign’s digital investment over time:

The Democratic field continues to shrink, with Julián Castro dropping out of the race yesterday, 😥 and John Delaney’s campaign seems to have stopped spending money online. (They’ve only spent $167 on Facebook and Google in the past 30 days.)

Also bringing up the rear is former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, whose campaign is apparently still a thing. He’s only spent $17,898 on Facebook and zero 💵 on Google since announcing his candidacy in November. According to the Associated Press, he’s supposedly betting on “magic” to win. Spiritual guru and meme-candidate Marianne Williamson’s magic may not be even able to help him in that regard, as she just fired her entire campaign staff. 🔮

FWIW, Bernie Sanders spent more than the other top-polling candidates online last week, mostly on Facebook for end-of-quarter fundraising ads.

Here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google last week.

FYI: Google’s new political advertising policy severely limiting campaign targeting goes into effect in the U.S. on Monday, so we’ll keep an eye out to see if that impacts campaigns’ dollar spend on the platform.  

And finally, as the Iowa Caucus is only one month away, here are the top 5 presidential campaign spenders on Facebook in Iowa over the last 30 days:

Deep Dive: The $34.5 million dollar elephant in the room 

Bernie Sanders’ campaign shocked much of the political world this week with a groundbreaking $34.5 million haul in the final quarter of 2019. That’s more than the other Democratic frontrunners like Pete Buttigieg ($24.7 million), Joe Biden ($22.7 million), and Elizabeth Warren ($21.2 million).

More impressively, his team announced over 5 million individual contributions, which were on average just $18. After those numbers were announced on Monday, #PresidentSanders started trending on Twitter. 

On top of that, Bernie seems to be riding steadily atop the polls – currently in first place in New Hampshire, second in Iowa, and second nationally, according to Real Clear Politics. He’s also basically tied with Biden for first in delegate-rich California – where voters may begin receiving mail-in ballots soon after February 3rd.

Ad Spending

In total, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has spent around $9 million on Facebook and Google ads this cycle.

That’s slightly less than the Buttigieg and Warren campaigns, but ahead of Biden and most others. FWIW, his ad strategy has been very conventional compared to the other frontrunners, and the vast majority of ads have just focused on small-dollar fundraising. 

Here’s a breakdown of which issues and keywords have been most prominently featured in his campaign’s Facebook ads over the past year:

Bernie strikes back

Bernie’s campaign seems to be one of the most aggressive when it comes to taking on other candidates. His team has messaged against the perceived centrism of Buttigieg and Biden in their fundraising appeals – and Sanders attacked Mayor Pete for his “wine cave” fundraiser days before the line went viral during December’s Democratic debate. (Just check out peteswinecave.com)

His campaign’s Facebook ads mentioning his Democratic opponents are usually fundraising-focused and mention closing the gap in the polls:

Organic engagement

A major pillar of the Sanders campaign online strategy – and where they really shine – is organic engagement and digital organizing. They’re one of the few campaigns with a must-read campaign newsletter, “Bern Notice,” 🔥 in which Sr. Advisor David Sirota blasts out campaign messaging to supporters and journalists. 

[above: an excerpt from the Bern Notice newsletter]


We pointed out months ago that more than any other campaign, the Sanders campaign benefits from the largest organization of supporters in dozens of pro-Bernie Facebook Groups. His fans on Facebook mostly use the groups to share memes and articles, and discuss reasons why they support Bernie. 

Finally, Bernie’s campaign is one of the only in the field with its own proprietary mobile app, and TBH, it’s kind of amazing. 🤓 Called “BERN”, the app uses gamification to get Bernie supporters to complete tasks for the campaign. You can send your friends a survey (so the campaign can collect their data), record and upload a video, sign up to volunteer, and more. 

One more thing… ➡️🤳

That’s all for FWIW this week! But before you go, we have one more ask of you! ⚡️Forward this email to a friend, and follow us on Twitter!


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


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