Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Trump's Early Lead on Facebook

At the L.A. Times, via Memeorandum, "Trump’s big, early lead in Facebook ads deeply worries Democratic strategists":
Almost every time voters who lean toward President Trump visit Facebook, they get deluged with invitations to his rallies or pleas to support his immigration policies: That’s no surprise — the platform was central to his victorious 2016 campaign.

What they probably don’t expect is that the Trump campaign also follows them to more distant corners of the internet — placing ads that supporters see on YouTube channels like Epic Wildlife, Physiques of Greatness and BroScienceLife, even the liberal site Daily Kos. The campaign’s willingness to spend money on such sites may or may not pay political dividends, but its willingness to gamble points to something bigger that unnerves the Democratic Party’s top digital thinkers.

“His campaign is testing everything,” said Shomik Dutta, a veteran of Barack Obama’s two campaigns and partner at Higher Ground Labs, an incubator for progressive political tech. “No one on the Democratic side is even coming close yet. It should be gravely concerning.”

Trump is using the advantage of incumbency, a huge pile of campaign cash and a clear path to his party’s nomination to build a digital operation unmatched by anything Democrats have. His campaign is testing all manner of iterations, algorithms and data-mining techniques — from the color of the buttons it uses on fundraising pitches to the audiences it targets with short videos of his speeches.

By the time Democrats pick a nominee, some of the party’s top digital strategists warn, Trump will have built a self-feeding machine that grows smarter by the day. His campaign has run thousands of iterations of Facebook ads — tens of thousands by some counts — sending data on response rates and other metrics gleaned from the platform to software that perpetually fine-tunes the campaign messages.

As with most campaign tactics, no one knows for sure how much difference the flood of money and advertising on Facebook might make. Despite all the testing of how people respond to specific messages, even the richest political campaigns don’t spend much money on rigorously researching the ultimate question of what, if anything, sways voters, especially with an incumbent who inspires such strong feelings — positive and negative — as Trump.

Still, the central fact of the 2016 election likely will remain true for 2020: Trump’s victory margin in key states was so slim that just a handful of voters staying home or showing up could make the difference...