Virginia campaigns shift to mobilization in final stretch
Looking at the new GOTV, attack ads from campaigns + outside groups
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 in Virginia is just 19 days away, and campaigns across the commonwealth are rushing to persuade voters and turn out their base supporters to the polls (or to mail in their ballots). In this week’s edition of FWIW, we break down the new turnout and persuasion ads from campaigns and outside organizations around the commonwealth.
Top of the Ticket
FWIW, here’s how post-primary spending on Facebook and Google ads stacks up in the Governor’s race:
Education is playing an outsized role in the #VAGov race, as Youngkin continues to attack McAuliffe’s debate comment that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Those attacks come after an entire summer of Republicans accusing schools of teaching “Critical Race Theory” to kids and attacking school boards over COVID safety policies.
McAuliffe’s campaign is trying to go on offense on the issue, releasing a new YouTube ad attacking Youngkin for supporting the “Trump-Devos” education plan and for planning to shift funding away from public schools and into private schools.
And with GOTV in full swing, both campaigns have shifted portions of their digital budgets towards turnout-focused ads, using well-known social pressure tactics to get their voters to the polls.
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.
Jason Miyares, the GOP nominee for Attorney General, has finally started running digital ads this week. His campaign is running 15 and 30-second variants of their ad “Pledge,” a mostly biographical spot featuring his mother, who immigrated to the US from Cuba. The ad itself is fine, but the fact that Miyares is still running biographic ads to introduce himself with less than a month to go should be concerning to the GOP.
Across the Commonwealth
Here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Facebook users in Virginia last week.
Democratic outside groups have consistently outspent Republican outside groups on digital ads for most of the cycle, and this week was no different. However, two GOP outside groups have been consistent spenders down the stretch: the Republican State Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity - Virginia. Both groups have focused primarily on supporting GOP delegate candidates, and the RSLC has spent the past few weeks running incendiary ads attacking Democratic incumbents as “radicals.”
Also new to the top spenders chart is the Voter Formation Project, a nonprofit group founded by Tatenda Musapatike that aims to revolutionize voter registration and mobilization tactics online, particularly targeting underrepresented communities.
...And here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Virginians on Google’s platforms.
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.
This week, we saw a big uptick in digital ad spending from Democratic-aligned outside groups, led by Priorities USA, Progress VA and Accountability VA PAC - those 3 groups accounted for over $154,000 in spending on Facebook and Google ads, mostly focused on turnout. We also picked up new spending from Working America, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Voter Formation Project.
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:
This week, Michelle Maldonado ramped up her digital program in a big way, spending $5,145 on Facebook and Google ads from October 4-10. We started picking up some spending from her campaign starting last week, and it’s the first time we’ve seen significant digital ad spend from her campaign since the June primary, where she successfully primaried incumbent Del. Lee Carter. The ads are focused on Maldonado’s popular policy positions, like protecting Medicaid Expansion and refuting “defund the police” attacks from her opponent.
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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