Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in the 2021 Virginia statewide and legislative elections. Each week, we look at how campaigns are investing in digital engagement and the online tactics they use to reach voters across the Commonwealth. Was this email forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe.
Over 71% of Virginians are vaccinated, but COVID-19 still looms large over the 2021 election as the Delta variant continues to drive new cases throughout the commonwealth. The issue isn’t going away any time soon, and both Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin are jostling for advantage on the issue. We dig deeper into how both candidates are messaging around COVID-19 in this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia.
2021 by the numbers
FWIW, here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Facebook users in Virginia last week.
Starting last week, we began to pick up spending from the Republican State Leadership Committee in support of GOP delegate candidates across the commonwealth. That trend continued this week, with the group clocking in as the #6 spender on Facebook ads in Virginia. Their ads feature positive, education-focused messaging for GOP candidates while attacking Democratic candidates for higher prices and for being “anti-police” and “weak on crime.”
And here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Virginians on Google’s platforms.
Zooming out nationally, here is how total digital ad spending (national and local targeting) on Facebook and Google stacked up this week in Virginia’s statewide races.
We’re also tracking cumulative digital ad spending across the state, including spending from candidates for statewide offices, competitive or potentially competitive Delegate races (any race under a 15 point margin in 2019), and partisan outside groups with spending specifically targeted at Virginia elections.
Last week, we highlighted Irene Shin’s campaign as the only candidate we’d seen running Snapchat ads - however, this week, we saw new spending on the platform from Terry McAuliffe and Chris Hurst (a must in his college town district).
👏 Props to both campaigns for making the extra effort to reach young voters on the platforms they spend their time on!
COVID Front and Center
This week, McAuliffe has been hitting Youngkin hard on YouTube over his opposition to vaccination mandates for healthcare workers and mask mandates in schools. One ad leads with a critical care surgeon saying “just like Donald Trump, Glenn Youngkin won’t listen to doctors and scientists.”
McAuliffe also released an ad titled “Disqualifying,” which features clips of Youngkin’s own words where he spreads vaccine misinformation, encourages people to submit exemptions from vaccine mandates, and comes out against vaccination mandates. In a state where majorities of voters support mask and vaccine mandates and where Youngkin needs to separate himself from the culture war GOP to win over college-educated suburban voters, this type of ad forces Youngkin to respond.
Youngkin’s team is clearly concerned about McAuliffe’s attacks on COVID policies, running YouTube ads of his own featuring doctors accusing McAuliffe of putting “politics over science.” The ads tout Youngkin’s statement encouraging everyone to get the vaccine but don’t push back forcefully on Youngkin’s stances on vaccine and mask mandates. The response ad once again highlights Youngkin’s awkward tightrope act as he tries to court moderates without alienating his base with mask and vaccine mandates.
However, on Facebook, Youngkin isn’t responding to McAuliffe on COVID-19 - for the most part, his Facebook ads have continued to hammer away at rising prices (particularly the gas tax hike passed by the legislature) and abortion. Count us as skeptical that bear hugging the abortion issue is a winner for Youngkin, but continuing to focus on rising costs that consumers around the commonwealth are experiencing may play well with Youngkin’s pro-business message.
Virginians, by and large, are pro-vaccine - per the Virginia Department of Health, nearly 80% of Virginians over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 71% are fully vaccinated. As the minority of the population that’s unvaccinated continues to spread COVID-19 and burden the commonwealth’s healthcare system, Youngkin’s refusal to support effective COVID-19 mitigation strategies like mask and vaccine mandates could continue to haunt him.
Thanks for reading this week’s FWIW Virginia! We’re so excited to be back following these critical elections in the Commonwealth. If you enjoy reading this type of content each week, we hope you’ll support our work by clicking share and tweeting out this newsletter below! As always, email us with ideas of what you’d like us to dive into next.
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