Jeremy B. Merrill and Jamiles Lartey report Trump’s Crime and Carnage Ad Blitz Is Going Unanswered on Facebook (‘The president has spent millions on misleading Facebook ads targeting undecided voters, while Joe Biden has been virtually silent’):
With unprecedented protests around race and policing dominating the news all summer, it was all but certain criminal justice would emerge as a key issue in 2020’s presidential campaign. The question was how the political messaging would play out. Would Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cast themselves as the torch-bearers for a new mainstream acceptance of Black Lives Matter? Would Donald Trump—who has flirted with branding himself a criminal justice reformer—return to the tropes of “American carnage” that characterized his 2016 run?
To understand how Republicans and Democrats are using criminal justice issues to reach voters, The Marshall Project analyzed hundreds of thousands of political campaign advertisements on Facebook from December 2019 to this month. Arguably the most powerful political messaging platform in history, Facebook allows candidates to micro-target tailored messages to demographic groups and even to individual voters by name. Probing that data lets us see how candidates reach voters, with a level of detail that earlier generations of strategists and political pundits could only dream of.
Our analysis found that of the $82 million Trump’s reelection campaign has spent on Facebook ads this year, $6.6 million paid for ads about crime and policing—a top focus of his Facebook campaign. Almost all of it came since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May. More than one-third of those ad buys were aimed at key battleground states and many sought to persuade specific undecided voters, and married women in particular. The Biden campaign? It didn’t spend a cent on criminal justice ads on Facebook until late August, choosing instead to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery. Yet Biden had, during the Democratic primaries, articulated a more progressive criminal justice platform than any of his party’s recent nominees.
While Merrill and Lartey report that the Biden campaign has begun to respond with its own ads, Facebook is – and has been – a favorable field for the Trump campaign. See generally Facebook Discussions as Displays of Ignorance, Fallacies, and Marginal Literacy and Americans Who Mainly Get Their News on Social Media Are Less Engaged, Less Knowledgeable.