The Trump campaign’s Facebook ads were far more effective than those run by the Biden campaign. But not for voter turnout. The ads produced donors, rather than votes.
In fact, a Phone2Action analysis combining Facebook ad data with campaign money data from our Donor Insight tool shows millions of dollars were spent by each campaign in states that have not voted for that party in decades, if ever.
For example, here is Trump campaign Facebook spending in deep-blue states:
Here is Biden campaign Facebook spending in deep-red states:
Why would a Republican campaign spend its hard-earned cash on ads in California? They clearly weren’t attempting to swing the state red.
Phone2Action found a clear relationship between Facebook ads and donations. Each party knew that they could not flip the state they were advertising in—but they also knew that loyal supporters would open their wallets to support a candidate they believed in.
The July Cut-Off
This article will focus exclusively on the first half of 2020. From January to June, there was a relatively strong tie between Facebook ad spend (displayed below as ad impressions, or views, over time) and campaign contributions. Once the summer hit, the tight relationship faded as donations increasingly poured in from non-social media sources.
Red Donors in Blue States: Oregon as a Case Study
Oregon hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1984. It has been solidly blue ever since. Why then would the Trump campaign spend $230,000 on Facebook ads (yielding 8.6 million impressions) in Oregon?
To explain, it helps to look at the presidential results by county in Oregon.
While the state as a whole went for Biden, just shy of 1 million people voted for Trump. Those right-leaning voters haven’t seen their preferred candidate win the state in 36 years.
As anyone who lives in a reliably blue or red state but whose personal politics go the other way can understand, this is a frustrating situation to live in. Your presidential vote is counted, but it doesn’t really count. This frustration creates a perfect opportunity for campaigns to raise money. If you can’t make a difference at the ballot box, you can make a difference with your donations.
Add in the highly sophisticated tools that Facebook offers for laser-focused ad campaigns, and you arrive at a virtual gold mine in every sense of the word. The Trump campaign would have been able to target only conservative residents of Oregon. As we mentioned previously, they wouldn’t be trying to turn out the vote. Instead, they could have run messages aimed directly at fundraising.
Before July, every time that the Trump campaign increased ad spend in Facebook, there was a bump in donations. Every time their impressions fell, so did the dollars. Conservatives in Oregon, whose votes are essentially lost due to the Electoral College system, actually do have a way to impact the national election. They can vote with their wallets, and the Trump campaign used Facebook ads to drive these donations.
More Examples of Facebook Ads Driving Donations
GovPredict found that similar relationships between presidential Facebook ad spend and donations to the campaigns remains consistent across other states.
In each graph, note how the relationship between Facebook ad impressions and donations to the candidate mirror each other. The targeting available to a campaign allows them to zero in on their supporters in every state and raise more money.
Like the Oregon example, this holds true in states that campaigns had no hope of winning; for example, see the Biden campaign’s spending in Mississippi or the Trump campaign’s spending in Maryland:
The trend also holds true in states where campaigns could be certain of victory and did not need Facebook ads to gain an electoral edge; for example, the Biden campaign was able to drive early-year fundraising in deep-blue Hawaii, and the Trump campaign did the same in deep-red Missouri:
There is virtually no reason for a Democrat running for president to buy ads on television in Mississippi. Those dollars would be wasted on viewers who will never support the candidate. The same is true for a Republican candidate’s ad spend in Hawai’i.
The power that Facebook offers, however, is a massive game changer. Campaigns can find, and serve ads to, only the people they want to speak to. They aren’t trying to change minds. They’re trying to mobilize their bases. While our previous reporting shows that Facebook won’t get people out to the voting booths, these same ads are instrumental in raising the funds needed for modern campaigns.
So let’s answer the questions we asked at the beginning of this article. Why did the Trump campaign spend more than a million dollars on Facebook ads in California? Because the campaign knew there are conservatives living all across the state who are frustrated with the Electoral College and who want their own way to influence the presidential race. And this time, it works.
Would you like to be able to analyze campaign donations? Phone2Action’s Donor Insight tool can help you raise more money.
Subscribe for Updates
Get the latest government affairs trends, best practices and news, right in your inbox.