The Political Ramifications of Good Facebook Ad Spend

Posted on November 12, 2018

“A fool and his money are soon elected.” So allegedly observed humorist Will Rogers sometime between 1879 and 1935. While I am not brave enough to parse out the “fool” part of that quote, the “money” part is a much more interesting question in light of the recent midterm elections. Big spenders were largely rewarded, per usual, but the method of big spending is changing, especially where Facebook ad spend is concerned, and will have major implications in 2020.

The truth is if you want to win an election in 2018, or in the foreseeable future, you’d better be spending money on Facebook advertisements.  Millions of dollars were spent in the 2018 midterms, and while these did not always result in wins, the use of Facebook ads is trending up.

Call it a Blue Wave or not, but the Democratic Party has officially gained 30 seats in the House of Representatives as of November 8th. FiveThirtyEight’s model projects that they will be +37 when all is said and done. That is due in no small part to Facebook ad spend. According to The Atlantic, “of the top 100 spenders [in the midterm elections], left-leaning candidates and causes spent $9.43 million from October 21 to October 27 alone … The big spenders on the right spent only $2.65 million.” It is plausible then to think that the Blue Wave of House seats almost certainly correlates with a Blue Wave of Facebook ad spend.

Elsewhere, the president ensured that Republicans retained control of the Senate, spending around $5.1 million on Facebook ads. Criticize his methods as you may, but the man’s team can put together a wickedly effective Facebook campaign, as his ad team ran several variants and placed their ads all over Facebook. While of course, other factors led to the Republican defense of the Senate, the major advertising spends by the Trump team certainly didn’t hurt, and in fact, probably led to some Republican upsets, like the as of yet still up for grabs Florida gubernatorial election.

The most extraordinary case of big spending on Facebook ads came deep in the heart of Texas. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign had spent $5.4 million as of October 20 on Facebook ads with the final total up to $7.1 million. With that amount spent, and with Ted Cruz’s campaign only spending 1/13th of that amount, Beto was inches away from flipping a typically ruby red Texas into a surprise blue state, with most major metro areas opting for him over Cruz.

Cruz will take the win, but O’Rourke has now firmly established himself as a player in the political landscape, possibly culminating in a bid for the White House in 2020. This would be implausible if Beto’s campaign had not spent so much on Facebook ads, as those ads effectively reached every state in the country.

It is important to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Certain trends may have contributed to the election results too, as opposition parties tend to win elections after the first half of a new president’s term. Interestingly enough, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri outspent her opponent Josh Hawley $1 million to $25,000, and still lost her seat in Missouri. These are trends, but cannot perfectly predict the outcome of a race. Perhaps it is best to remember that, as Nate Silver observed, “…Tuesday’s results in the House/Senate can be explained by 3 things. 1—It was a very blue political environment, 2—Polarization is increasing (ticket-splitting is decreasing), 3—Incumbency no longer protects a candidate all that much.” This election was the perfect melting pot of political discord on top of historic ad spend which, of course, contributed to certain electoral wins.

However, it is foolish to ignore the trend of Facebook ad spend. Facebook is going nowhere any time soon, and as candidates become more conscious of the value of Facebook ad spend, you may be seeing more and more political advertisements on your Facebook page. The ramifications of this are beyond political as well. The future of political campaigning will be done on Facebook, but so too will the future of business. Beto spent over $7 million on Facebook campaign ads and almost flipped Texas blue. That’s only a precursor for things to come. If you aren’t already marketing on Facebook, you better get to it before it’s too late.