Republicans' old-school campaign
Conservatives’ neglect of basic campaign strategies turned a Red Tsunami into a ripple
We said it two weeks ago and we’ll say it again - whatever “Red Wave” that was on the horizon could have been much larger had Republican candidates invested in basic tactics of modern campaigning. Combined with some major “candidate quality” issues, that helped the Democrats have a very good night.
As of this writing, control of the House of Representatives still hasn’t been called (!), and it’s looking like Democrats could very well hold on to the Senate. In this week’s FWIW, we’ll share too many hot takes, one major Facebook trend, a look at political ads on Roku this cycle, and much more. But first…
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By the numbers
FWIW, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Facebook + Instagram in the campaign’s final full week:
Note: Facebook’s political ad ban was in place during this time period, so while advertisers were able to edit their spending amount, no new creative could be launched. With Election Day in the rearview mirror, new ads may resume - just in time for Georgia’s runoff election on December 6th.
Political advertisers spent over $320 million on Google and YouTube ads in 2022. Here were the top political advertisers on those platforms last week:
Last week, Republican outside groups like Citizens for Sanity, Senate Leadership Fund, and Congressional Leadership Fund flooded the zone on YouTube in a last-ditch effort to hit Democrats on crime and inflation. During the same time period, John Fetterman’s campaign spent over $730,000 on Google and YouTube ads - which was more than Dr. Oz’s campaign spent on the site targeting Pennsylvanians all year.
…and here are the top political ad spenders on Snapchat so far this year:
So many takes…
Judd Legum thinks political media is broken. So does Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. And Charlotte Klein in Vanity Fair. And Oliver Darcy at CNN. James Fallows thinks the political press needs a time-out.
FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub thinks digital political ads need more disclaimers.
Dan Pfeiffer shared his thoughts on why Democrats had a surprisingly good night, with some wise words of caution heading into 2024.
Michelle Goldberg thinks GOP extremism and abortion is the most important political story in the country. Melissa Ryan agreed, writing most Americans don’t want our country to become a fascist hellscape.
Right-wing troll Jesse Waters exclaimed on air “that these youth voters are coming in so strong in an off year is very concerning,” and Herschel Walker’s son Christian thinks Republicans failed at cultural content and influencer engagement.
Republicans’ old-school campaign
Most political scientists and operatives agree: campaign tactics really matter the most at the margins - boosting campaigns by maybe a point or two in tight races. That was our thinking when we wrote about Democrats’ digital advantage two weeks ago, and at the time, we warned:
“If there is to be a “Red Wave” on November 8th…it would be much larger had Republicans invested in some of the basic aspects of modern campaigning.”
Democratic candidates built a massive advantage in Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube ad spending. In battleground Senate races, Democrats outspent Republicans $50 million to $10 million. In key House races, the Dem advantage was $8 million to $3 million. In competitive Gubernatorial contests, they outspent the GOP $25 million to $13 million.
Meanwhile, GOP candidates and allied outside groups chose not to invest in Snapchat ads, leaving heavy Democratic spending on the youth-focused platform unanswered.
…And Republican candidates by and large stayed off of TikTok, ceding one of the most important corners of the internet to their Democratic opponents.
There were a few exceptions - Herschel Walker spent heavily online to fight to a draw with Raphael Warnock. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was consistently a leader in online ad spending, and he easily swept aside a challenge from Beto O’Rourke. Ron DeSantis absolutely flooded Floridians’ feeds online with ads to boost his reelection.
…but by and large, it appears many Republicans reverted to their pre-Trump, old-school, TV-driven campaigns, and it didn’t exactly work out for them.
From social to streaming
One common refrain we’ve heard this cycle from digital strategists on both sides of the aisle is that political advertising on CTV (connected TV) / streaming platforms was having a moment. Many Americans are increasingly watching their favorite shows on apps like Hulu or on Roku devices - and smart campaigns have shifted their paid media budgets accordingly.
These advertising platforms are notoriously opaque - outside of some scattershot FEC reports, we may never know how much certain campaigns spent on different streaming platforms or services.
Smart TV giant Roku, however, provides a public list of all the political campaigns that run ads on its platform in a given week. Here’s a breakdown of the number of individual Roku advertisers in House, Gubernatorial, and Senate races in the campaign's final two weeks:
Facebook dials down the conservative outrage machine
On Election Day 2020, conservative media superstar Dan Bongino was one of the top content publishers on Facebook - a social media platform that historically prioritized serving engaging, clickbaity content to its users’ feeds. At the time, Bongino was averaging around 8 million interactions (likes, shares, comments) each week on his posts, which typically railed against Democrats or COVID restrictions.
Flash forward to Election Day 2022, and Bongino is lucky to average one-tenth of that engagement in a one-week period, according to CrowdTangle. This phenomenon is not unique to Dan Bongino - it’s happening to other large conservative pages too. The monthly total post engagement of some of the biggest Facebook pages on the Right, from Tucker Carlson to Ben Shapiro, has dramatically decreased over the past two years.
These midterm candidates won Facebook in 2022
Speaking of Facebook engagement…
In 2022, midterm campaigns from Pennsylvania to Arizona built large followings on Facebook in hopes of finding supporters and broadcasting their messages to the voters who matter. So, how did they do? We pulled data from Meta’s CrowdTangle tool to quantify midterm candidates’ total engagement and audience growth on the platform this year.
Farewell to a real one
That’s it for FWIW this week! Even though the Election is over, we’ll have many more insights and recaps to share in the coming weeks.
One last note: For the past several years, Nick Seymour has served as a primary editor, co-author, and partner in building out this newsletter and other research products every single week. This week is his last doing so, as he’s moved abroad to attend graduate school. Without Nick here, you can expect more first-person-singular usage, many more typos, and a few hot takes that are a little less hot. We’ll miss you Nick!