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The outsize role that mail-in voting will play in this year’s presidential election has placed it in the eye of a storm of misinformation and paid media.
In the past two months, Joe Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee have “dramatically” increased direct mail advertising to send absentee ballots to people’s homes or to confirm their address and that they’re a supporter before providing vote-by-mail info, according to one media buyer who works with the campaign. This month, the Biden campaign also promoted Facebook ads asking users to sign a petition condemning President Trump’s recent posts that make false assertions about voting by mail.
“Getting voters absentee ballots and getting them to vote by mail should be the most urgent priority right now,” said Andrew Drechsler, president of the liberal voter data company HaystaqDNA, Bernie Sanders’ campaign data and analytics vendor.
Voting by mail hasn’t historically been a major partisan issue. The total number of mail-in votes skews liberal, because it’s popular in California. But Republican registration grew when states such as Colorado and Florida expanded absentee and mail-in voting. With mail-in voting, registered voters automatically receive ballots, whereas absentee ballots typically must be requested and may require an excuse.
But Democrats have seized the advantage this year by quickly sending voters absentee ballots where allowed or info to request ballots.
A Republican was favored in a Wisconsin Supreme Court special election but lost due to a landslide of mail-in votes. The Republican won votes cast in person in 19 counties, but the Democrat won the most mail-in votes in 20 counties.
Pennsylvania and Virginia held primaries last month, and in both states Democrats registering for absentee ballots more than doubled the number of Republicans. In Florida, 300,000 more Democrats than Republicans have signed up to vote by mail.
Democrats are urgently trying to get voters to mail in their ballots early.
For one thing, it’s harder for dense cities to safely open polling locations. Wisconsin cut poll locations in Milwaukee, the state’s biggest city, from 180 to only five. Louisville, Kentucky’s Democratic stronghold, had only one in-person poll location for its primary. Surveys also show that liberals are less likely to vote in person on Election Day due to coronavirus concerns.
The second factor is that Biden has a strong polling lead against President Trump.
There’s an opportunity, before the race tightens, to bank ballots from people who are currently dissatisfied with Trump’s coronavirus response but might change their minds by November.
Republicans are also chafing at the president’s tactic of discouraging voting by mail, instead of recruiting sign-ups.
“I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do,” President Trump told Fox News on Sunday.
But in Florida, where Republicans usually dominate mail-in voting with campaigns targeting the state’s seniors, it’s getting harder to get Republicans to register for absentee ballots, one conservative media consultant told AdExchanger.
Florida Republicans are using the phrase “absentee ballots,” because the president focuses his criticism on mail-in voting, even though the state’s official language for the program is “vote by mail,” the consultant said.
In Michigan, another swing state the president is defending, Trump supporters burned absentee ballot letters after he attacked the governor and secretary of state for sending out the applications to vote by mail.
Another conservative media buyer likened the president’s attacks on voting by mail to the Trump campaign’s Facebook ad campaign that falsely claimed to be an official census registration, the first US political ad Facebook removed as misinformation.
“You get a few headlines that pump up the base,” he said. “But really what you’re doing is tricking Republicans, probably, into thinking they’ve filled out their census. Congratulations, it’s harder for us to win now.”
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Data Trust COO Marinaccio On The Rise Of Political Middleware
Data Trust, the main conservative voter data company, is “in the weeds” on issues such as server virtualization and raw data integrations, said Chief Operating Officer Michael Marinaccio.
The former digital director for the US Chamber of Commerce and US House of Representatives joined Data Trust last year.
AdExchanger caught up with Marinaccio about Data Trust’s position in conservative politics and what’s changed during the pandemic.
AdExchanger: What’s the role of Data Trust?
MICHAEL MARINACCIO: What we’re known for is our voter file. Data Trust goes to all 50 secretaries of state and the District of Columbia to aggregate public voter data and then streamlines that data into a single product. We’ve expanded the voter file with AB/EV (“absentee ballot and early voter”) data. That means our clients can skip delivering ads to people who have already voted. We calculated that saved around $100 million for conservative candidates and causes in the 2018 cycle.
The third tier we have is consumer data. So if someone is trying to talk to gun owners, say, we append that behavioral information to the voter file. And fourth is a library of data models that our ecosystem partners share. If a candidate is trying to reach regular churchgoers, that model exists in our library, so why reinvent the wheel and pay to create a new model? Products like that and our AB/EV data create huge savings.
What’s on the road map this year?
The focus has been building the voter file as fast as possible. What’s new this year, or at least a sense of urgency, is getting as many cell phone numbers as we can in the voter file data. With everything going on it’s hard to knock on doors, so campaigns are making more calls and texts than ever before.
And this will be the first year we have AB/EV data for every election in all 43 states that provide it. In previous cycles we only had priority states and priority counties.
What’s involved in collecting AB/EV data?
It’s raw manpower.
Florida is a state with an automated system that passes AB/EV data four times a day. But in states like Texas or California, it can be by paper, and you need someone on the ground or directly corresponding with the secretary of state’s office. Some states require notarized signatures.
We wish we could build an API into every state’s system, but in reality it’s a manual process.
Do you connect directly with ad-buying and online media platforms?
As someone with a digital background, what’s front of mind for me is making sure Data Trust data is available wherever possible – or at least everywhere our clients are. That means integrations with all the major social media and OTT platforms.
We don’t want campaigns to be thinking, “Oh no, can I get my Data Trust data into my DSP? How do I get the data into this platform?” That should just be available for all our clients.
Do you expect a big difference this year in terms where political advertisers spend their money online, compared to 2016 or even 2018?
No one is in one place anymore. People are narrowing down into smaller and smaller niche audiences. Sure, you can go on Facebook and find everybody: They have all the names and data. But when you actually run your ad, the same level of reach is impossible. Maybe it’s because certain people like me don’t frequent Facebook as much. Instead, that attention is spread across many more platforms than ever before.
That means campaigns need to be in more places than ever before. For example, if you’re looking for women aged 18-35, you have to break down audiences in different platforms. Can’t just go find them all on Facebook or Instagram, especially if you’re layering in voter file information. The limits of any one platform’s reach means you need to be all over the place now.