Democrats’ new midterm message: “Fund the police.”
As Republicans use the same old “soft on crime” attacks, Democrats embrace law enforcement in digital ads
Trailing in many of the polls and on the losing side of several key issues, Republicans have turned to what one strategist described as their “break the glass” strategy. From Wisconsin to New Mexico, conservative candidates and dark money groups are flooding the airwaves with familiar accusations that Democrats are “soft on crime,” in hopes of scaring voters into their column. Unlike in 2020, however, Democrats are a little more prepared for these attacks - and online, we have seen an unprecedented amount of candidates on the Left running digital ads in support of law enforcement and “funding the police.”
We’ll break down those ads and more below, but first…
By the numbers
FWIW, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Facebook + Instagram last week:
Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Action were the top midterm-related spenders on Facebook and Instagram last week. Those groups’ campaigns focused on supporting Republicans up and down the ticket - and they are investing heavily in state legislative races. We’ll have more on that next week.
One new top spender we found last week was labor giant SEIU, which is seeking to turn out its members as early voting begins(!) in several key states like Minnesota. They’re also running a large campaign targeting Filipino voters in Nevada with ads in Tagalog.
…and the Worst ad of the Week Award goes to the Republican Governors Association, which is polling its supporters to decide where Republican governors should send migrants next.
Meanwhile, here were the top political advertisers on Google platforms last week, including YouTube:
As we’ve seen over the past several weeks, a handful of conservative outside groups are starting to build a significant spending advantage when it comes to YouTube advertising (and other ad spending more generally). Those include the Senate Leadership Fund, Congressional Leadership Fund, and One Nation. Their ads primarily attack Democrats on inflation, crime, and taxes.
…and here are the top political ad spenders on Snapchat so far this year:
One interesting find on Snapchat this week: the National Football League is running get-out-the-vote advertising targeted toward 18-24-year-olds nationwide.
From elsewhere online…
Content that is shared organically on social media platforms like Facebook can have a much larger impact than paid advertising. Which midterm candidates are receiving the most reactions, comments, and shares on their campaign’s Facebook posts? Click here to find out >>
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Democrats’ new midterm message: “Fund the police”
As we wrote last week, this line of attack has been one of several major issues defining the 2022 midterms, and Dan Pfeiffer recently called it Republicans’ “break the glass strategy.” Fact checkers have generally called these Republican attacks deceptive, and there’s no doubt some of them are racist. But given Republicans are trailing their Democratic opponents in key polls across the country, it’s no surprise that crime is becoming their current thing just weeks before Election Day. What’s different this time is that Democratic campaigns are somewhat more willing or more prepared to confront these barrages of negative ads.
From New Hampshire to Wisconsin, moderate and progressive Democrats are running digital advertising emphasizing their support for public safety, solutions to fight gun violence, and resources for law enforcement, while explicitly rejecting fringe calls to “defund the police.” Online, they’re able to target this messaging to those most vulnerable to Republican talking points.
Here’s a roundup of some of the most notable of these ads from the past few weeks:
Mandela Barnes (WI-Sen)
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has likely been Republicans’ biggest recipient of crime-related ad attacks. He’s also invested quite a few ad dollars in pushing his response. “They’re claiming I want to defund the police, that’s a lie,” the candidate declares in a straight-to-camera video filmed in what looks like a suburban kitchen. “I’ll make sure the police have the resources and training they need to keep our communities safe.”
Since the first week of September, his campaign has run this ad everywhere online - spending around $215,000 serving it to Wisconsinites on Facebook and Instagram, and another $623,000 promoting it on YouTube. That’s a very large amount of money to put behind one piece of ad creative online. An interesting note - the majority of these ads exclude younger audiences in their targeting criteria, and on YouTube, they overwhelmingly aim to reach voters over 35.
Barnes has received some outside help in pushing back on Republicans’ crime attacks. Everytown for Gun Safety has recently begun airing a brilliant new ad flipping the script on Barnes’ Republican opponent, highlighting Senator Ron Johnson’s inaction in the face of rising gun violence.
We can’t help but think that Everytown’s ad is the exact type of response Dan Pfeiffer was hoping for in writing this piece earlier this week. He noted that in order to successfully counter crime-related attacks, Democrats have to do more than just yell “I oppose defunding the police.” Instead, Pfeiffer argues, they should state what solutions they support - particularly tying the issue to stopping gun violence.
John Fetterman (PA-Sen)
One example specifically cited by Pfeiffer of a strong Democratic response comes from the internet’s favorite candidate, PA Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Under attack from millions of dollars spent by conservative dark money groups for allegedly wanting to free Pennsylvania’s entire prison population (or being a member of the Crips?!), Fetterman has released a new ad describing why public safety matters so much to him. “Public safety is why I ran for office. When two of my students were murdered, I ran for mayor to stop the violence…We did whatever it took to fund our police.”
His campaign also released another ad this week featuring a law enforcement official explaining the candidate’s strong record on public safety.
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are no doubt receiving the lion's share of the media attention and dark money ad dollars on this issue, but Democrats pretty much everywhere are talking up their anti-crime or pro-law enforcement credentials.
Maggie Hassan (NH-Sen) is running ads across digital platforms saying “she’s done the opposite of defunding the police.” Tim Ryan (OH-Sen) has blanketed Ohio with YouTube ads accusing his Republican opponent of wanting to defund the police. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-Sen) has run Facebook and Instagram ads touting her record of funding the police and endorsements from law enforcement. Val Demings (FL-Sen) has a cross-platform digital ad calling defunding the police “just crazy.”
On the House side of things, Gabe Vasquez (NM-02), a rising Democratic star running in a swing district, has new Facebook and Instagram ads up this week touting his record of increasing police budgets. Dan Kildee (MI-05)’s ads say he brought home funds for local law enforcement, and Cindy Axne (IA-03) is promoting a local news segment about her efforts to fund local police.
…and further down South, even Stacey Abrams (GA-Gov) is currently running multiple Facebook ads promoting her support for law enforcement. At least one specifically states “I don’t support defunding the police.” Like other strong ads, Abrams’ campaign uses the opportunity to pivot to the issue of gun violence and highlight her support for getting guns off our streets. By our estimates, Team Abrams has spent around $82,000 on these ads in the past month.
All of this is meant to show that while Democrats in 2020 may have struggled to respond to Republicans' mostly false, manufactured attacks on crime - this cycle could be different. Even some of the party’s most liberal standard bearers have made the decision to campaign on law enforcement funding while simultaneously highlighting issues of accountability and gun violence.
Democratic campaigns have apparently put aside fears of far-left criticism to reach mainstream voters where they are on the issue, and are attempting to at least fight Republicans to a draw. Without being completely bogged down by the anti-crime attacks, Democrats can then continue on offense and communicate to voters what’s really at stake in November (i.e. abortion rights, democracy, literally everything).
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