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<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Facebook Ads Don’t Turn Out Voters, They Turn Out Donors</span>

Facebook Ads Don’t Turn Out Voters, They Turn Out Donors

Written by Will Schrepferman on December 18, 2020


In a previous article, GovPredict analyzed presidential campaign spending on Facebook ads. We found that, while the Trump campaign’s ads were far more effective than the Biden campaign’s, they did not lead to voter turnout.

For this article, GovPredict combined this Facebook ad data with its own Donor Research tools. When looking at presidential campaigns’ spending, GovPredict observed that millions of dollars were spent by each campaign in states that have not voted for that party in decades (if ever).

Trump campaign Facebook spending in deep-blue states:Trump campaign Facebook spending in deep blue states

Biden campaign Facebook spending in deep-red states:Biden campaign Facebook spending in deep-red states:

Why would a Republican campaign spend its hard-earned cash on ads in California? They clearly weren’t attempting to swing the state red.

GovPredict found a clear relationship between Facebook ads and donations. Each party knew that they could not flip the state they were advertising in—but they also knew that loyal supporters would open their wallets to support a candidate they believed in.

The July Cut-Off

This article will focus exclusively on the first half of 2020. From January to June, there was a relatively strong tie between Facebook ad spend (displayed below as ad impressions, or views, over time) and campaign contributions. Once the summer hit, the tight relationship faded as donations increasingly poured in from non-social media sources.

Biden Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising NationwideTrump Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising Nationwide

Red Donors in Blue States - Oregon As A Case Study

Oregon hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1984. It has been solidly blue ever since. Why then would the Trump campaign spend $230,000 on Facebook ads (yielding 8.6 million impressions) in Oregon?

To explain, it helps to look at the presidential results by county in Oregon.Oregon results by county

While the state as a whole went for Biden, just shy of 1 million people voted for Trump. Those right-leaning voters haven’t seen their preferred candidate win the state in 36 years.

As anyone who lives in a reliably blue or red state but whose personal politics go the other way can understand, this is a frustrating situation to live in. Your presidential vote is counted, but it doesn’t really count. This frustration creates a perfect opportunity for campaigns to raise money. If you can’t make a difference at the ballot box, you can make a difference with your donations.

Add in the highly sophisticated tools that Facebook offers for laser-focused ad campaigns, and you arrive at a virtual gold mine in every sense of the word. The Trump campaign would have been able to target only conservative residents of Oregon. As we mentioned previously, they wouldn’t be trying to turn out the vote. Instead, they could have run messages aimed directly at fundraising.Trump Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising in Oregon

Before July, every time that the Trump campaign increased ad spend in Facebook, there was a bump in donations. Every time their impressions fell, so did the dollars. Conservatives in Oregon, whose votes are essentially lost due to the Electoral College system, actually do have a way to impact the national election. They can vote with their wallets, and the Trump campaign used Facebook ads to drive these donations.

More Examples of Facebook Ads Driving Donations

GovPredict found that similar relationships between presidential Facebook ad spend and donations to the campaigns remains consistent across other states.

In each graph, note how the relationship between Facebook ad impressions and donations to the candidate mirror each other. The targeting available to a campaign allows them to zero in on their supporters in every state and raise more money.

Like the Oregon example, this holds true in states that campaigns had no hope of winning; for example, see the Biden campaign’s spending in Mississippi or the Trump campaign’s spending in Maryland:Biden Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising in MissouriTrump Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising in Maryland

The trend also holds true in states where campaigns could be certain of victory and did not need Facebook ads to gain an electoral edge; for example, the Biden campaign was able to drive early-year fundraising in deep-blue Hawai’i, and the Trump campaign did the same in deep-red Missouri:

Biden Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising in Hawai'iTrump Facebook Ad Impressions and Fundraising Missouri


There is virtually no reason for a Democrat running for president to buy ads on television in Mississippi. Those dollars would be wasted on viewers who will never support the candidate. The same is true for a Republican candidate’s ad spend in Hawai’i.

The power that Facebook offers, however, is a massive game changer. Campaigns can find, and serve ads to, only the people they want to speak to. They aren’t trying to change minds. They’re trying to mobilize their bases. While our previous reporting shows that Facebook won’t get people out to the voting booths, these same ads are instrumental in raising the funds needed for modern campaigns.

So let’s answer the questions we asked at the beginning of this article. Why did the Trump campaign spend more than a million dollars on Facebook ads in California? Because the campaign knew there are conservatives living all across the state who are frustrated with the Electoral College and who want their own way to influence the presidential race. And this time, it works.

Would you like to be able to analyze campaign donations? GovPredict’s Donor Research tools can help you raise more money.