2020 Elections: Campaigns turn to Facebook ads in reaching supporters

By: - September 9, 2020 12:40 am

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee. (Alex Wong/Getty Images).

In the digital age, political candidates have new opportunities to advertise their campaigns using social media.

Candidates use Facebook advertising to introduce themselves to voters and attack their opponents. Others use it to promote their fundraising efforts — with posts offering a convenient link to campaign websites in a more interactive way than what TV or mailers can offer.

For some, like Democratic congressional candidate Desiree Tims, it is simply the cheapest option. Read one recent fundraising solicitation from Tims, “COMING SOON to a tv near you … hopefully.

The “Facebook Ad Library” allows users to easily search spending data by candidates for president, Congress and Ohio offices. 

In the week of Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, President Trump’s campaign spent more than $300,000 in Facebook advertising to Ohio users. Such ads urge Ohioans to contribute to the president’s reelection campaign and enter a contest to be a guest at the first presidential debate to be held in Cleveland. 

In that same week’s time, Joe Biden spent just over $90,000. Biden’s ads promote his energy and health care plans, with some telling users to “stand with our service members and military families” in the wake of reporting by The Atlantic of Trump’s controversial statements about American service members.

Among the 16 congressional races in Ohio, some feature a lot of Facebook spending while others have elicited practically none.

The 1st District race between Republican incumbent Steve Chabot and Democratic challenger Kate Schroder has featured social media ads from both candidates attacking one another. Chabot has spent around $6,000 on Facebook over the past 90 days, while Schroder has spent more than $25,000 in the hopes of flipping a seat considered a toss-up by Sabato’s Crystal Ball race tracker.

In the 2nd District race, Republican incumbent Brad Wenstrup has vastly outspent his Democratic challenger Jaime Castle, with a 90-day spending total of around $16,000 to just $650. 

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 12: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) attends a House Judiciary Committee markup, on September 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The biggest Facebook spender in Ohio by far is Jim Jordan, seeking reelection to the 4th District. His campaign has spent nearly $450,000 over the past 90 days promoting his support of Trump and recent appearance at the Republican National Convention. 

Jordan has gone beyond promoting just his own campaign. In one six-figure expenditure, his Facebook page encouraged Facebook users to “Join OUR battle to retake the House.” Only 4% of the users that saw that ad are from Ohio. The remaining 96% are from all around the United States, users targeted by the Jordan campaign to make a financial contribution to the Urbana Republican. Jordan’s Democratic opponent, Shannon Freshour, has spent $4,800 on Facebook over the past three months.

Taking away Jordan as an outlier, Republican and Democratic candidates have spent almost equally on Facebook ads the past three months: $56,707 and $59,429, respectively. One third-party candidate has spent $725. 

Facebook intends to ban any new political advertisements in the week prior to Election Day, news outlets have reported. This means ads already purchased may still run.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.