FWIW: Will Virginia be competitive in 2021?

Plus, a new report shows how effective digital ads can be in engaging BIPOC voters

As we reach the close of President Biden’s first 100 days next week and continue to watch national fights play out over his busy agenda, we’re also keeping an eye on several key off-year elections down-ballot. 

That includes the Virginia Governor’s race, which is in full swing as Democratic primary voters begin early voting today. In today’s FWIW, we’ve got a first look at digital advertising, messaging, and online trends in the race for the Governorship. Also inside: A new white paper from our team and our former colleagues at the Voter Formation Project detailing findings from our large-scale digital advertising programs to register and mobilize black and brown voters in 2020. 

Read on for more! But first…

By the numbers

From special elections to fundraising and issue advocacy, here are the top 10 political ad spenders on Google platforms nationwide last week:

The NRA continues to be a major spender on the platform, launching some new video ads last week on YouTube in an attempt to “expose” Biden’s “gun control plan.” 

Another major advertiser last week was EMILY’s List’s WOMEN VOTE!, which is running a multi-platform campaign supporting Karen Carter Peterson and attacking Troy Carter in the 2nd Congressional district special election in Louisiana. They spent nearly $17,900 on Google Search and YouTube ads like the ones below, as well as $18,474 so far on similar Snapchat ads. Election Day for the heavily Democratic seat is tomorrow. 

Meanwhile on Facebook, many of the same advertisers from last week continue spending large amounts of money. Here are the top 10 spenders:

Pro-Trump media outlet Newsmax continues to spend heavily on Facebook ads, spending over half a million dollars over the last month. Read more about their recent spending + see their ads here. 

Finally, here are the top spenders on Snapchat ads so far this year:

The online race for control of the Commonwealth

Today kicks off voting in the Democratic primary for Virginia’s gubernatorial race, giving the five candidates still in the running a little over a month to earn as many votes as possible. Considering the absolute mess that the VA GOP has become in recent years and the Democratic lean of the state’s electorate, whoever wins will be strongly favored to lead the Commonwealth - and so far, Terry McAuliffe seems best positioned online.

The popular former Governor is outspending all of his Democratic rivals combined, and has a strong financial lead over the top-spending Republican candidates, Youngkin and Snyder. A new poll out this week showed McAuliffe with a healthy lead over his Democratic primary opponents. The majority of his digital ads are (no suprise) fundraising ads, and their messaging varies between highlighting the extremism of the Virginia GOP, and how Democrats can’t take this year’s Virginia elections for granted. 

He may not be wrong - the Republican gubernatorial campaigns are already spending as if this race will be competitive, and this fall’s general election will be a test of whether Trump voters will continue turning out for down-ballot Republicans with the former President out of the public eye.

On YouTube, McAuliffe’s team has invested nearly $90k in ads touting accomplishments from his first term and, more recently, Gov. Northam’s endorsement. These ads target a mix of age groups, and they seem to be targeting geographic areas where more Democratic-leaning voters live in the Commonwealth - on the left is their ad targeting, and on the right is the 2020 presidential election results in Virginia by county.

The next biggest investor in digital ads on the Democratic side after McAuliffe is former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who would be the first woman governor of Virginia and the first black woman governor in America if elected. They’ll be getting an assist from EMILY’s List, which just endorsed and started fundraising for Carroll Foy yesterday.

Other major Democratic candidates for Governor include State Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would similarly make history as the first black woman governor and second black Virginia governor, respectively, and Del. Lee Carter. All three campaigns have yet to spend significantly on digital advertising, but that could change soon. Regardless, the digital race for the Governor’s mansion narrows when you compare their social media followings online. 

Is Twitter real life? Del. Lee Carter sure hopes so: 

On the Republican side, your guess is as good as ours as to what the heck is happening. The state party initially planned to hold some kind of drive-through nominating convention in a Liberty University parking lot, but those plans have since changed. What we do know is that the leading candidates (Snyder, Youngkin, Cox, and Chase) are falling over themselves to be seen as the Trumpiest candidate in the Commonwealth. 

Following the tragic shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Cox and Snyder notably began running digital ads pointing their guns at the camera. Snyder has made a point to parrot Trump’s “election integrity” talking points as a signature issue. And Chase is just...next level.

There’s also this ad:

We’ll keep an eye on the developments in these races and report back when things change. In the meantime, we’re considering bringing back our weekly FWIW Virginia newsletter soon to track the state legislative + Gubernatorial elections in the Commonwealth. If you think that’s a great idea, go ahead and subscribe in advance here to be the first to know when we launch! 

New research suggests positive impact by digital ads on BIPOC turnout

During the 2020 election cycle, our team ran an online voter registration and mobilization campaign that invested $12.5 million in digital ads targeting Black and Latinx voters across multiple platforms.

In a first-of-its-kind report released this week, ACRONYM and the Voter Formation Project found significant statistical evidence that voters of color who received mobilization and registration ads online were more likely to vote. 

Download the report

That’s it for FWIW this week! If you like this newsletter, please share it on Twitter, forward it to a friend or two, and make sure to follow us at @FWIWnews!