Midterm Elections 2018 | The Politics of Midterm Campaign Ads [Infographic]

Posted on October 23, 2018 by Media Culture

4 Years and a World Apart

Then and Now: The State of Online Political Advertising

Digital advertising saw a dramatic transformation between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections.

Let’s see how it compares to today, and how some of the world’s biggest digital advertising platforms are fighting back against reported election meddling.

In our latest infographic, we’ll walk through some of those changes. It’s important to remember that with legislators, social media and search companies implementing new restrictions on political advertisers, even more change is coming. By the time the 2018 midterm elections are over, advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Google will have been changed forever.

Advertising budgets in the business world have been trending away from TV/radio and over to digital for years, and in 2017 we saw global digital ad spend beat TV for the first time ever.

According to the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Global Entertainment & Media Outlook report, online advertising will continue growing, becoming a $127 billion-dollar market by 2022. By comparison, according to the same report, that’s 70% larger than the projected TV advertising market.

So, what does this have to do with the 2018 Midterm Elections? Despite the fact that overall ad spend for the 2018 midterms is estimated to be about $8.9 billion, up $900 million from 2014, the way that money is being spent has changed dramatically.

In 2014, $71 million was spent on digital ads, a relatively new form of marketing for many politicians and less than a full percent of overall spending. Now that political advertising has been proven to be hugely successful, everyone wants to be involved. The once-less-than-one-percent slice of the pie is expected to see an increase to about 22 percent and $1.9 billion for digital ads alone.

That’s 2,538 percent growth in just four years across all types of digital marketing, including:

  • Display: $991 million (2018) from $31.2 million (2014)
  • Paid Search: $414 million (2018) versus $26.9 million (2014)
  • Email Marketing: $241 million (2018) over $8 million (2014)
  • Video: $231 million (2018) overshadowing $5 million (2014)

Because of the rapid escalation in digital platform marketing share for politicians, there has hardly been time to find and work out all the loopholes in the regulatory rules. Disclosure requirements are still somewhat unclear, though platforms like Facebook are requiring more transparency than in 2014 and 2016. A lack of clear regulations has made it difficult to track ad spending, ad content, ad buyers and what demographics are being actively targeted.

Election Meddling, Censoring Speech, Platform Cleansing and a Search for Transparency

Since the election meddling of 2016 was detected, investigations into just how much and what kind of advertising has been compromised have been ongoing. Both the U.S. government and the platforms with the potential to have hosted advertisements traceable to Russian agents are spending a lot of time and effort to find better ways of preventing another such travesty.

According to Facebook, over $100,000 in targeted Facebook ads was purchased by Russians looking to sow social division among Americans along with $4,700 of traditional display and Google search ads the search giant has been able to confirm. Another $53,000 in politically-driven Google ads is suspected, but not positively linked, to the Russian campaign.

The U.S. government and various tech companies have been fighting back, rooting out coordinated manipulation of platforms like Twitter (hundreds or more accounts suspended) and groups running election interference campaigns (hundreds, or more, as well).

Evil Empire Meets Incompetent Guard

Despite the 20,000 Facebook employees charged with keeping the 2018 midterms clean, only 27 percent of American web users believe Facebook’s efforts will be successful. Perhaps this lack of confidence in Facebook comes in the wake of its latest data privacy crisis, reported security breaches and congressional hearings.

This mistrust comes in an environment where platforms are simultaneously being told they’re not taking a hard-enough line against this type of election fraud while being accused of Twitter shadowbanning and Facebook censorship.

Twitter, by the way, denies shadowbanning, a practice that makes it appear that someone has posted to their own feed even though no one else can see it. Facebook has danced a difficult line with censorship, at times refusing to ban hate speech because it wasn’t likely to cause imminent harm to anyone and at others, banning innocent accounts because of complaints. Wired ran an interesting Op-Ed explaining the logic behind the Facebook censorship issue this summer.

Only Time Will Tell

The 2018 midterms are just around the corner and, ultimately, only time will tell if election fraud has been brought under control. What is clear, however, is that politicians and their media people clearly believe that digital advertising works and will continue to win them seats.

Proof of this strong belief is glaring, just take a look at spending so far  this year on Google and Facebook:

Top Google Political Ad Spenders (5/31/2018 – 10/14/2018)

  1. $3,286,600: Senate Leadership Fund
  2. $2,939,900: Congressional Leadership Fund
  3. $2,220,500: NRSC

Top Facebook Political Ad Spenders (5/31/2018 – 10/14/2018)

  1. $4,645,300: Beto O’Rourke for Congress
  2. $4,413,700: Donald J. Trump, Inc.
  3. $1,450,200: Priorities USA Action

Digital marketing platforms can do their part (voluntarily for now) by checking the sources of their political advertisements, including who is doing the funding, to ensure that they’re not accidentally opening the door for more trouble for the American people.



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