By the numbers: here’s where Biden and Trump are dedicating their digital ad dollars

By the numbers: here’s where Biden and Trump are dedicating their digital ad dollars

Portland examined the ad spending and targeting strategies of former Vice President Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and President Donald Trump.

Data was taken from, a website which pulls analysis from the Facebook Ad Library Report and the Google Transparency Report. Additional analysis from Facebook, which has the highest percentage of adult users of any social media platform, was culled from Facebook Ad Library API, which provides ad demographics by gender, geography, and age.

Social distancing guidelines have shut down traditional political campaign tactics like canvassing and public rallies or town halls. While the digital ad landscape has taken a hit as a result of economic uncertainty amid the ongoing global pandemic, there’s no doubt that online marketing dollars will be a major determinant in who reigns victorious in the 2020 US Presidential election. That’s becoming even more apparent with American voters spending more time in their homes and on their devices, scrolling through social media platforms and relying on streaming services for entertainment.

Simply put, strategic targeted digital campaigns are more important than ever.

It’s still to be determined how the Democratic party and its presumptive nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, will compete in a digital space that has been dominated by President Trump leading up to and throughout his first term in the White House. Yet data shows Biden’s camp is making moves to ramp up its digital outreach plans, an area many felt that Hillary Clinton’s campaign lacked in 2016.

A deep dive into where Trump and Biden are putting their ad dollars sheds light on where campaign teams are focusing their efforts, who they are targeting, and what issues they think will help to win votes on Election Day in November.

Divvying up the Digital Dollars

Over the last few weeks, a period during which Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) took himself out of the race to the White House, Biden has spent $3.8 million on Facebook advertisements, which include Instagram ads. His spending on Google platforms, which includes YouTube and Google Search properties, is significantly lower at just under $670,000. By contrast, President Trump’s campaign has spent $2.9 million and $2.5 million on Facebook and Google ads, respectively.

Digital Campaign Demographics

Nearly 62 per cent of Joe Biden’s digital ad spend on Facebook platforms over the designated period (21 March to 11 April) targeted female voters. By comparison, 54 per cent of Trump’s Facebook ads were intended to reach women voters.

Female voter turnout has been significant in recent US elections. The group made up 55 per cent of the electorate in the 2016 presidential election, and conservatives have seen steady declines in support from women voters, a problem that pundits and politicians alike agree needs to be addressed. In 2016, polls saw 94 per cent of black women and 68 per cent of Hispanic and Latino female voters pick Hillary Clinton. That same year, 53 per cent of all white women voters chose Trump. Fast forward to the 2018 midterm election, which marked the highest margin in midterm history among female voters: 59 per cent voted for Democratic candidates. It also marked a significant shift in the US, with just 32 of 69 suburban GOP-held districts stayed in Republican control.

Online Politics and Policies

Biden’s presidential campaign ads between 21 March and 11 April primarily focused on governmental reform and healthcare. For example, an ad recounting Biden’s personal experience with America’s healthcare system reached Iowans using Facebook, Hulu, Instagram and YouTube earlier this month.

President Trump has continued to push his political stance on topics that have continued to appeal to his supporters. His proclamations of media reporting “Fake News” have been a theme thread throughout his presidency, and one dominating his digital ads. His camp recently put more than $300,000 toward related ads. Immigration and impeachment top out the election-related issues the Trump team has focused on in its digital outreach plans. Socialism is also a popular subject in Trump’s online ads, and reflective of the Republican party’s criticisms of healthcare reforms put in place by the Obama administration.

Adding Up Age Groups

Trump and Biden’s digital ads are both primarily trying to reach voters aged 45-64 (20.9 per cent versus 25.6 per cent, respectively), with nearly equal dollars dedicated to reaching other groups of registered voters. Notably, while the newly released Harvard Youth Poll shows Biden with a strong lead amongst voters under 30, neither campaign is putting forth big ad money to target young adults. Harvard’s data shows a quarter of those age 18-29 say their lives are worse because of Trump, but the turnout among this age range has historically been disappointing. Just ask Sanders, a youth vote champion who spent 22 per cent of his campaign’s Facebook ad money to reach voters under age 24. In March, he told reporters his team had “not done well with bringing young people into the process. It is not easy.”

What’s Next?

With Election Day only six months away and Americans spending more time at home, campaign ads are more frequently emerging online. The question remains just how impactful the digital strategies of President Trump or his Democratic opponent will be in determining who will be elected, or re-elected, as President of the United States in November.

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