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Trump’s 2020 campaign is buying a whole lot of Facebook ads

Facebook advertisements were a big part of the president’s campaign in 2016.

President Donald Trump at a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally.
Trump at a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally in Pennsylvania on May 20, 2019.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has outspent every 2020 Democratic candidate on Facebook advertising, according to the New York Times — but Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are catching up.

Trump is able to outspend his potential challengers because, so far, he’s raised far more money than any of them. The president raised over $30 million for his reelection campaign in the first three months of 2019. In comparison, leading Democratic fundraiser Bernie Sanders collected about $18.2 million. Kamala Harris came in second place with $12 million, followed by Beto O’Rourke at $9.4 million. Biden sat out the first quarter but raised $6.3 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign launch.

Trump has spent more than $4.6 million on Facebook ads since December, a number that far surpasses Democratic candidates, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive.

Trump benefited from his focus on Facebook marketing in 2016, which helped him reach a different audience from that of traditional TV advertising. His campaign would test tens of thousands of different ad variations — with or without subtitles, pictures or videos, etc. — to find out which were the most engaging, Gary Coby, director of advertising at the Republican National Committee, told Wired in 2016. Coby, who had also worked on Trump’s campaign, said Facebook was a testing ground for them to figure out people’s likes and dislikes.

This time around, Trump is spending his money on expanding his base through Facebook. Following reports that white women shifted to the left during the 2016 election, his campaign has been targeting ads toward women who are 55 and over, according to the New York Times’s Thomas Kaplan and Sarah Almukhtar. Immigration has also been a core topic of his ads in recent weeks, and they’ve also used Trump buzzwords such as “wall” or “border,” Kaplan and Almukhtar wrote.

Some 2020 Democrats are beginning to pump more money into Facebook, as well. Since Joe Biden announced his candidacy on April 25, he’s spent nearly $1 million on Facebook ads, which far surpasses Trump’s spend of about $455,000 over the same period. His campaign said that donors have especially responded strongly to videos featuring Biden, according to Axios, which helped the former vice president raise large sums of money after announcing his presidential bid. And just last week, Kamala Harris narrowly outspent Trump by rolling out several ads that criticized anti-abortion legislation proposed by conservative states, according to NBC News.

Access to digital ads has become a convenient way for campaigns to collect contact information of potential voters for email listservs and solicit small-dollar donations. And the cheap prices help candidates test out different ad formats at relatively low stakes, in comparison to TV ads.