Biden vs Trump advertising strategy in battlefield states

According to data from Kantar Media, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden spent more money on advertising in Pennsylvania than in any other state, followed by Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and the United States. Arizona, all of the battlefield states.

It should come as no surprise that a presidential campaign spends more on advertising in places with more compelling voters, particularly in Pennsylvania and Florida.

“Florida and Pennsylvania are two of the biggest prizes for either candidate and probably must-see victories for Trump and Biden,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the non-partisan “Inside Elections” article. “and CNN contributor. “It is difficult to replace 29 or 20 electoral votes with another state.

But in an election year when states that are not traditionally in the spotlight are now up for grabs, such as Arizona, Minnesota and Georgia, both campaigns have a bewildering array of options for where their advertising budgets are spent. .
Campaign ad spend is a constant game of one-upmanship – the Trump campaign and affiliated political action committees have already made significant investments in advertising for September – but by the end of August, Trump and Biden each have an advertising advantage. in five of the top 10 battlefield states. Biden and affiliated outside groups have spent more than twice as much in Michigan, for example, while Trump has spent several times his Democratic rival in Georgia.

One thing these 10 battlefield states have in common: Trump won them all except one in 2016.

“It’s a good example of how the race is favoring Biden right now,” Gonzales said. “President Trump is playing defense almost everywhere and it is difficult for him to recreate his 2016 victory.”

This year’s playing field is hard to recognize from 2016, when Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton spent around $ 52,000 on Georgia ads combined. This year, Trump has spent around $ 9.4 million so far while Biden has spent around $ 926,000.

In 2016, neither Trump nor Clinton bothered to pay for ads in Minnesota. So far this year Trump has spent $ 2.5 million and Biden has spent $ 795,000.

And following Clinton’s loss of the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Biden’s advertising portfolio for those three states is much more open this time around. So far, Biden has spent $ 44 million in Pennsylvania, $ 27 million in Michigan, and $ 26.1 million in Wisconsin.

On CNN’s Road to 270 interactive map, Biden would be able to secure an Electoral College victory with the states Clinton won in 2016, as well as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. These three states also have a habit of voting for a Democrat for the presidency, Gonzales adds.

Another difference from 2016 is that Democrats spend significantly less on advertising in Ohio.

“Ohio turned to Trump so much in 2016 that Democrats don’t count on them coming back this year,” Gonzales said. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.”

Looking at the rest of the country, Trump has spent more than his rival on national ads, red states, and even blue states. Battlefields aside, in states that voted for Trump in 2016, Biden and his affiliate PACs have been considerably less aggressive, spending $ 5.1 million compared to Trump’s 18.7 million.

But that’s not necessarily because the Biden campaign thinks it can’t compete with Trumpland. Most of this spending was on digital ads, which are cheaper than TV and radio ads.

Trump and Biden spent more than $ 228 million combined on digital ads on Facebook and Google as of August 31 – only about $ 1 million less than their local TV spend and more than four times what they spent on cable ads local.

While TV and radio spending is primarily used to persuade voters, digital ads are often used to lure grassroots supporters into donations and build voter lists (think those Facebook ads asking you to “Add your name”).

“When it comes to online advertising for a national campaign, targeting is less telling than the ads themselves,” said Eric Wilson, a political technologist who led the Senators 2016 presidential campaign digital team. Marco Rubio.

In a non-competitive state, online ads typically focus on building mailing lists and raising funds, Wilson said. Solid blue California, for example, has wealthy donors on both sides and ranks among the top 10 spending states on advertising. In more competitive states, the emphasis is more on identifying and training voters and volunteers.

While this is a different type of campaign, it’s worth noting that the $ 152.9 million Trump and his affiliate PACs spent on digital ads is more than double Biden’s digital ad purchases.

“I was surprised at how little the Biden campaign invests in online advertising,” Wilson said. And as sitting president, Wilson added, Trump also dominates TV news coverage, which means he doesn’t have to pay for the increased exposure of TV commercials like Biden.

Trump’s online advertising advantage may also have something to do with his target audience.

“The (Trump) supporters are on Facebook, the demographics of people on Facebook are well suited to their target audience, and Facebook’s possibilities lend themselves well to their strategic use of the platform,” said Kathleen Searles, professor. associate of communication policy at Louisiana State University. “I also think Facebook ads are generally less scrutinized and aren’t subject to the same set of regulations or standards as TV ads, which may also be part of their strategy.”

Most of the ad spending in the 10 battlefield states was spent on television and radio. In Pennsylvania and Florida, the gap between Biden and Trump’s broadcast and digital advertising spending is dramatic. In Pennsylvania, Trump spent $ 29.6 million on TV / radio and $ 3.6 million on digital. Biden spent $ 39.1 million on TV / radio and $ 4.9 million on digital.

And in Florida, Trump spent $ 26.5 million on TV / radio and $ 7 million on digital. Biden spent $ 34.6 million on TV / radio and $ 7.4 million on digital.

It would make sense to spend the most on compelling TV ads in states with the most compelling voters. The fact that TV and radio ads are more expensive may be precisely the point of breaking the bank in states like Pennsylvania and Florida.

“Campaigns tend to take an arms race approach to advertising,” Searles said. Psychologically speaking, some campaigns believe that large numbers in an inescapable state project strength.

This does not always work in practice. Clinton spent $ 64 million on advertising in Florida in 2016 – more than twice as much as Trump – and the Sunshine State has always turned red.


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