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.
Election Day is less than a month away, and early and mail-in voting is already in full swing throughout the Commonwealth. With the statewide offices and control of the House of Delegates looking more and more competitive, digital ad spending is on the rise from campaigns at every level. We break down the new ad campaigns and trends we’re seeing in this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia.
Top of the Ticket
FWIW, here’s how post-primary spending on Facebook and Google ads stacks up in the Governor’s race:
The McAuliffe campaign deployed a masterful move this week to draw attention to Glenn Youngkin’s career as a vulture capitalist - an attack that was successful against Mitt Romney in 2012. Their digital team announced a small ad buy of fun ads featuring Taylor Swift, highlighting how Youngkin’s Carlyle Group was responsible for the star’s famed legal troubles. From our perspective, the ads served their purpose - attracting earned media attention from dozens of outlets, potentially getting younger voters to pay attention to the race, and educating the public on Youngkin’s out-of-touch career.
McAuliffe has also spent much of the campaign trying to define Youngkin as Trump-lite, and Youngkin leaned into that last week when he refused to answer whether he would’ve certified the results on January 6th if he were a member of Congress. McAuliffe is punishing Youngkin for that misstep, running ads through his “The Download VA” page, which boosts the Axios article that initially covered those comments.
While both candidates are running traditional digital ad campaigns, both campaigns are also fighting it out to be the first thing voters see in Google searches for both candidates. YouTube and Facebook persuasion ads are worthwhile investments, but search ads are key for making sure that every voter tuning into the race sees your message first.
These results should vary based on your location in Virginia, but Virginians who search for Glenn Youngkin may see an ad from Youngkin directing voters to his WinRed page for donations. They’re also likely to see an ad paid for by Terry McAuliffe’s campaign attacking Youngkin for “double-talk” while linking to a negative article for Youngkin.
Searches for McAuliffe, on the other hand, will see an attack ad from Youngkin that links to the microsite twofacedterry.com and an ad from McAuliffe linking to his Washington Post endorsement.
Zooming out, here is how total digital ad spending (national and local targeting) on Facebook and Google stacked up this week in Virginia’s statewide races.
Democrats still maintain significant digital ad spending advantages in every statewide race as McAuliffe continues to outspend Youngkin and as Ayala and Herring continue to spend practically uncontested.
Incumbent AG Mark Herring spent most of the summer investing small amounts in donor acquisition ads, but his campaign stepped up his digital game this week with $15,043 in persuasion ads. So far, Herring’s digital messaging is focusing on protecting a woman’s right to choose and touting his accomplishments as AG.
Across the Commonwealth
Even with Facebook’s worldwide outage this week, campaigns and outside groups still had plenty of time to spend money on ads to reach Virginians. Looking beyond the statewide races, here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Facebook users in Virginia last week.
We saw a number of progressive outside groups step up their Virginia-focused spending this week, including Priorities USA, ProgressVA, and the Human Rights Campaign. Priorities USA spent $21,700 on Facebook ads targeting Virginians this week, mostly focusing on mobilizing (presumably) Democratic-leaning voters to vote early. Their ads use well-known mobilization tactics like social pressure and emphasizing the ease of voting, and link to voting resources on vote.org.
...And here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Virginians on Google’s platforms.
One of the top Google spenders this week was New Virginia Majority, which rolled out a series of 30 and 18-second video ads featuring direct-to-camera testimonials from Virginians helped by McAuliffe’s policies. New Virginia Majority’s spend is relatively small compared to the massive sums being spent by McAuliffe and Youngkin on Youtube, but every bit helps in what might be a very close election.
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.
House of Delegates
While statewide races and outside groups dominate most of the spending across the commonwealth, digital ad spending in delegate races continues to climb each week. Here’s how total Facebook + Google ad spending from delegate candidates from each party stacks up:
And here’s the top 10 delegate campaign spenders on Facebook + Google over the past week:
Del. Nancy Guy, who narrowly defeated long-time incumbent Chris Stolle in 2019 by just 27 votes, aggressively ramped up her digital ad spending this week to run one of the better contrast ads we’ve seen this cycle. Guy’s GOP opponent, Tim Anderson, was recorded at a public meeting saying “kids die, it’s unfortunate.” The clip is particularly brutal in the context of a Delegate race, where it’s rare to have literal footage of your opponent sticking their foot in their mouth, but Tim Anderson is no ordinary candidate.
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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